Up the Creek and back again


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.


Celebrations on the tideway


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!!

“Sea Breezes” up The Creek?

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!

st-helenaShe 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.




High Summer on the tideway

I woke to the swish of the wash as the first commuter Clipper sped past to serve the Putney run into town.  Also at 6am I spied the trans-Atlantic incoming flights swing round the Dome on their descent to Heathrow; likewise early morning flights out of City to the continent climb sharply to clear the Dome.  As London awakes the ebbing tide reveals our small beach soon taken up by a family of Canada geese which are swiftly joined by a trio of swans, just in time to share their breakfast of freshly exposed green weed.

Our local pigeons based at the ageing Trident Hall launch out into crazy circuits around our house, soon to be joined by our pair of roofers inbound in their half truck.  It will be soon time for a tea break between laying the brand new slates high above Crane Street, with its morning runners and cyclists heading for their work places.  By the way, Tony Othen completed an enforced 77 out of the 100 miles race a few weekends ago with ease, just one of 26,000 competitors taking part in this great charity event.


While Judy was away in deepest Wiltshire I explored the new night spots gathering around the O2 – a light supper at the Greenwich Kitchen (1), then up to the third floor cocktail bar with its fantastic views.  There I spotted a pair of lofty cranes with a 600-yard cable stretched between them – alas, an increasing wind prevented a brave tightrope walker performing his lofty act from happening.  I grasped my lemonade balanced on a lofty bar stool.  While there I grabbed a menu headed CRAFT London which is on the second floor, very West End – exclusive dining Quail, Crab, Raw Beef, Clay-baked Duck;  two floors below, a bakery, snack bar et al – then back home for a cheese sarnie.

Summer High Jinks

Last weekend, just by the Intercontinental Hotel, I spied a sun burst at a pop-up venue ‘Corona Sun Sets’ (2) which echoed around Greenwich Reach – an ancient tradition of sun worship: an audio-visual presentation for party goers.  By Monday it had gone!  Never mind.  The Clipper Bar and Eighteen Sky Bar at the Intercontinental (3), which is bang next to the O2, boasts a spectacular overview from its lofty 18-storey high elegance with commanding views over the prime meridian, Canary Wharf, the O2 and Excel, beyond to the Barrier towards the sea and back south to dear old Greenwich.  Get there by cab or a ten-minute stroll from the North Greenwich Interchange – wowee!!  The Thames Walk’s latest attraction for the energetic!

To get a taste of Greenwich Peninsula, on Saturday 10th September ‘Feelings Summer Fete’ will present a dance music festival on ‘the spectacular tip of Greenwich Peninsula’.  Visit http://www.musicfestivalnews.net/feelings-summer-fete-2016.

The Peninsula also boasts an upgraded jetty (4).  Once a coaling pier for a long gone power station, now Farmopolis is blossoming into a verdant riverside garden.  Don’t forget to wander down to the now well-established ecology nature reserve close to Greenwich Yacht Club.  Be surprised or shocked by the dense housing developments hereabouts (5) built adjacent to a busy aggregate handling plant.

Other Greenwich summer events include the opening of a new community garden on the site of a deceased steam railway cutting in Royal Hill.  See if you can spot where the track once ran.  Unofficially opened by our MP Matt Pennycook who was much impressed by the generosity and enterprise of neighbouring gardeners.

Down on the new Greenwich waterfront at New Capital Quay, a community fete will be held next to Costa Coffee this Saturday when old and new residents will get together.  I once had the privilege of explaining to members the unique geographical and historical location of their new homes when once a cruise ship terminal was proposed.  (I wonder if the Enderby House project will ever get off the ground?)  I sense a decrease of cruises overnighting at Greenwich Tier just by the smart new residential developments and their key location with the grand promenade leading directly to the Cutty Sark.

A high mark in the Kents’ summer

Being an Essex lad and very keen on ‘tidal’ delights – that is the traditional craft which once plied their trade in and about the Thames Estuary, from the tiniest of creeks in and about the small ‘hythes’ transporting materials and goods into the heart of the capital and, of course, the once busy and extensive docks.    As trade diminished, enthusiasts converted their purpose-designed commercial craft into leisure craft, many fully rigged as sailormen, many converted into residential ‘units’ which found their way – together with Dutch, Belgian and French imports – to delightful moorings for weekend and full-time residential use.


Every August enthusiasts find their way to the Swale for a sailing match and get-together.  For years we have taken a minor part as keen supporters and even as crew members in our more agile days (and nights).  This family enthusiasm has encouraged us to sail mostly dinghies around the Thames Estuary and abroad on holidays.  Having used our Faversham cottage as a base for some 50 years, we have tried to be around to witness the arrival and departure of the graceful and extensive fleets.  Even camping along the sea wall or sailing amongst the fleet and on numerous occasions being on board competing sprit sail barges and joining in on the prize-giving events held in and around the Shipwrights Pub and boat shed which is splendidly be-flagged for the fun occasion.

Visiting and competing craft gather well before the Saturday match.  It’s a delight to see early arrivals sail in from every quarter and even riverine craft pass by our Greenwich waterside eyrie in good time to utilise the tide and wind, as did the sailormen of yesteryear.  Many a Thames Barge was built here at Greenwich, just yards from where I write!!



This Friday we joined the Thorlings at Seasalter, having lunched with them at Faversham’s quayside Italian restaurant and having had a ‘march round’ of this Creekside port which has, for years, attracted traditional craft with its extensive quay-side yards and local craftsmen.

By coincidence I bumped into one of the Guide Magazine’s staff also lunching at ‘Posillipo’ who published ‘Riverwatch’ for many a year.  Sarah Thorling’s skill in reading my writing and editing it during those balmy days.; since then, Helen Othen has nobly stepped in and encouraged me to follow this self-indulgence – I thank them all.

We struck lucky as retired to the Thorlings with their fantastic home which overlooks miles of estuary from North Essex, upriver t wards Southend, the tail end of Sheppey and the Swale channel for a good miles.

Armed with sun hat and binoculars, I surveyed the beautiful summer afternoon as one by one cross-estuary sails appeared at the ports’ approaches through the maze of channels which are for ever changing, as shipping demands.  The sloping, grass-covered cliff side running down to the extensive mud flats and oyster beds shimmered in the sun and all was well with the world, as anxious skippers made their landfall with the blessing of a light breeze and a rising tide.  I could almost hear the hearty greetings between the crews in anticipation of a pint at the Shipwrights’ briefing!


One year we stayed on board to savour the magic of the gathered fleet swinging in the tide.  Believe it or not as I write ‘Lord Roberts’, a famous sprit sail barge, motors past with jolly punters on board for a trip on Greenwich Reach on the ebb tide – ah me again!!

Welcome Home, sailor!

Returning home after a dramatic round-the-world voyage for the crews on board the 12 clippers was indeed a triumph for both professional and amateur crews; albeit tinged with grief as two of their shipmates had perished in unrelated accidents on separate occasions – mid-ocean committal to the deeps must have been so traumatic.round the world001

Sir Robin Knox Johnstone’s clipper fleet have sailed round the world over the years and accidents are fortunately rare as both amateurs and professionals participate in such a grand venture.  Each craft is reliant on sponsorship and is often associated with UK ports and institutions and welcomed warmly in all the ports of call.  An escorting fleet of passenger craft loaded with supporters joined them off Greenwich for the last leg of their journey.  Tower Bridge raised her bascules in triumph as they approached St. Katharine’s haven for a well-earned homecoming reception.  As a National Serviceman, I experienced a similar remarkable reception at Southampton Docks as the troopship arrived from Singapore to a welcoming military band playing ‘When the Saints come marching in’ – never to be forgotten by those who disembarked after years away from home!  Ah me!

Sir Robin, after years of maritime adventures, has taken to land-based ventures for many a year.  While serving on the Council of the Friends of the NMM, I enjoyed his wise and considerate chairmanship and realise the weight of responsibility of organising such a venture must have been.  I salute one and all.


Penny Matheson presents a PK drawing to RKJ on his retirementfrom the Friends of NMM



An unusual Naval training ship from Japan is visiting the capital.  Her crew of cadets lined the taff rails in a traditional manner as she steamed up river to lie alongside historic HMS Belfast.  London is a much-favoured port of call for cadets – no doubt much recorded for the folks at home!

jap boat001

High Summer

Early mornings are a delight as the light breeze cools the foreshore after hectic party nights all along the narrow pathway.  Our recently erected scaffolding hasn’t helped, owing to the roofing works on our Crane street house.

Sunday morning was a relief – the ebb, laden with the recent high tide ‘flush-out’ of creeks and locks, brought flotsam and jetsam in the swirling eddies – a hazard for the early morning rowers too!

Our resident cormorants and visiting geese and a pair of swans, however, seem completely disinterested.  The intrusion of UK shipping surprised us all as a flotilla of work boats from the Firth of Forth and a tug from Cork chug up the Thames with a pontoon-mounted crane, aided by a brand new pusher tug bearing the SWS Walsh logo (based on Denton and Thurrock) which have become much more noticeable as outside help is much required on the Thames Tunnel engineering.  The vast new tunnel under Central London’s transport infrastructure is requiring work sites up and down the Thames shoreline, as can be seen from the DLR Lewisham line as it snakes over Deptford Creek.  There the Baselgette’s original sewage pumping station is also steeped in scaffolding, just like us!  This week our roofers have stripped the slate and are now installing much-needed insulation into our dust-ridden hidden cavities – no wonder we felt the winters’ cold!

Puffy clouds skit across the capital skyline obscuring the pattern of aircraft vapour trails as they carry vacationers around the world.

Our Friday visitors from Sydney and a young family of New Zealanders – one of my godsons, a master yachtsman, came to view after an excellent Zizi lunch on Greenwich Pier.  Staying in Central London, they just loved the tripper boat journey from Westminster Pier down to Greenwich through the heart of the capital – a complete contrast to their NZ home on a North Island Creek.

As the morning tideway narrows with the falling tide, an old Dutch houseboat chugs by outward bound.  Perhaps for a family holiday to the Medway and to see the treasures of Chatham Dockyard or perhaps the peace and quiet of an isolated creek!


The reality of uncertain weather was forecasted by lumpy, black clouds over the City.  A sudden breeze through the open window sent my model J class yacht flying; an elegant craft more suitable for the Solent, she had to be sailed down Romney Road from the Nauticalia sale – too big for the car and not welcome on buses either.  So I tacked along the pavements down into Crane Street, past the Yacht pub where previously a fine collection of Beken photos were once on display.  She now graces our top deck with dignity and elegance once again!



Just handing this piece to belle Helen Othen, who transcribes my scrawl into more literate form, I received a blog from Mike Ellis who had spotted a piece in the press re the forthcoming America’s Cup which states that the first recorded yacht race was from Greenwich to Gravesend.



However this Sunday Tony Othen, after months of early morning sprints around SE London, takes part in the Prudential Ride London 100 mile cycle event. The Kents wish him well. He tells me that he whistles down an empty Crane Street at the crack of dawn on his 20 mile daily practice run well before we are awake.