Downstream memories

Just beyond the revamped Cutty Sark pub with its riverside cluster of ‘picnic tables’ is a surprising private garden.

Peering through the railings is a joy as each season provides interesting planting, including handsome trees. It was cultivated by a knowledgable horticulturalist who had landscaped St Katherine’s Dock. Her riverside greenhouse lies just in sight, but I do remember the adjacent ivy covered out building which has attracted various artists who loved to depict the ever changing river scenes from various lookout points.

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Ann Christopherson and Terry Scales just adored the barges, lighters and cranes that once crowded Lovell’s Wharf. The tall tri legged Scots cranes dominated the shore line where construction steel was stored.

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The sign-written Lovells Wharf denoted where Pipers used to build lighters and other small craft including the famous sprit sail barges which were such a feature of the estuarial Thames.

Peter Piper came from a long line of who had prospered while the port was still swinging – well remembered for his general hospitality as Master of the Waterman’s Company.

I have a vivid recollection, with Peter, was viewing the wrecked ‘Marchioness’ pleasure boat which was hauled up into his yard for investigation after she had been run down by ‘Bow Belle,’ an aggregate coaster one dark night in 1989 under Southwark Bridge – (a memorial in Southwark Cathedral commemorates the 51 party goers drowned).

Believe it or not, while viewing the wreckage, the Bow Belle chugged past – still in service in spite of the ongoing coroners investigation – her distinctive engine beats still echoes in my mind.

The operation of the slipway and two floating docks passed on to Paul Deverell – the working yard still continues to servicing Dutch barges, tourist launches et al.

Mike Turk, another enterprising waterman had built, in Turkey, a replica of Hornblower’s frigate which features in film and TV productions. Deverell’s  floating dock was used for its annual upkeep – I was asked to produce drawings of ‘The Grand Turk’ suitable for a guide book to this facsimile period ship. An experience I will never forget is being on board by myself surrounded by marine impedimenta of that period – looking out to the Royal Naval College through the cabin’s slanted windows surrounded by instruments and rifles ready for action – it was surreal. The gun deck below with cannons and hammocks, the tables set for sailor’s ‘square meals’ were all to be illustrated as well as d detailed layout plan – how many artists get the privilege of stepping into a living maritime treasure?

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The unique floating dock and working wharf are threatened with closure and I prepared a series of drawings showing different alternative proposals of a new shipyard further downstream. This is now built and ready for occupation.

Meanwhile the rest of the second phase of Greenwich Wharf is now under construction. The handling of the landscaping of the first phase closest to Ballast Quay is almost rural – the first two completed residential blocks have an unusual massing which gives angular balcony layouts providing excellent river views.

BPTW, the local architectural firm, commissioned me to prepare illustrations of Greenwich Wharf – an overall redevelopment of 4 once working wharves (Lovell’s, Granite Badcock’s, and Piper’s wharves)

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Courtesy of BPTW

An interesting Flemish style of 18th century water mill was discovered during site clearance which I enjoyed viewing and attempted to visualise how it worked – part of the original paddle wheel was discovered as well as chunky wooden foundations – it is believed that much of the machinery was re-erected elsewhere – (a useful bit of kit).


About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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