Up the Creek to Waitrose

I wonder if the skipper of the coaster, the ‘Bert Prior’ had been given a shopping list by his wife back in Fingringhoe – the Essex Sandpit on the River Colne. Colchester’s river has been supplying the Deptford Creek cement plant for many a year. The observant will spot the bridge side wharf which no doubt has supplied cement for many of the neighbouring developments which now crowd the River Ravensbourne entry into Father Thames.

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I was somewhat surprised to see the ‘Bert Prior’ going stern first under the left bridge to take up her dedicated mooring at Brewery Wharf – my short walk up Norway Street to the 188 bus stop was enlivened by the skipper’s skill as she had just a minimal clearance passing under the bridge on the rising tide which gave enough water under her to navigate the tricky few yards before docking.

Construction work on the massive housing site was almost complete except for the spur wharf immediately facing the Waitrose check out – upon enquiry I found this could well be a creek side resting point for the likes of me, heavily laden. I can remember boarding a Scottish trawler just  where a group of artists lived and worked – our good French friend Lawrence made her own paper on board to fabricate the window display which she made for  Monsoon, the West End fashion store. For many years various families have lived onboard house boats, barges, lighters and the like in the hidden world of Deptford Creek.

Perhaps this could be the very place of a classic vessel or Thames Sailing Barge to moor, a welcome contrast to the multi-faceted glass facade of Capital Quay. For the curious, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has a special crew to operate this bridge which still has navigational rights which no doubt were legalised by the Trinity House charity which was founded 500 years ago at nearby St Nicholas Church. When the Kents first moved to Greenwich this busy wharfside was very much of commercial use – a gas works on this site relied on colliers from Newcastle and freight from Norway,  not unlike the view from London Bridge, passers by never knew what to expect!!

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Stop Press! Bank Holiday Monday!

An amazing flotilla of small pleasure cruises came up river in their droves – unusual to see so many ‘up river craft’ down in the tideway section of the Thames – a reminder of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant of June last year. A trio of narrow boats brought up the head of the impressive fleet, many flying the special ensign issued to participants who braved the terrible wet occasion – fortunately the warm sunny weather blessed the Monday afternoon fleet – where had they come from and where were they going!!

Meanwhile maritime Greenwich was heaving with visitors – the Royal Naval College looking spectacular in bright sunshine – utilising the lawns and court yards in a most relaxed and joyful manner – the place has never looked better – the Olympic effect I hope is paying dividends to the local traders and restaurants.

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As corporate giants cluster around each other – new bright brandings compete with ever brighter and bolder neon signs try to outsmart their banking rivals as one by one these lofty logos are upgraded to mega size.

The river Thames at night is full of surprises as the ‘razzmatazz’ of Canary Wharf’s high rise office buildings sparkle like a treasure house – the long curve of Island Gardens forms a natural barrier of darkness – the low rise apartment buildings provide a comforting belt of domesticity as people settle for the night while, on the new built horizon, the multitude of office floors often last the whole night through – perhaps there are still a number of brokers hard at it – but I do wonder if its only the office cleaners!!

It is extraordinary how the panoramic view has changed since we came to live in Greenwich – the darkness of shut down docks and lack of shipping emphasised the low lying marsh land with just a few street lights illuminating he highway which curved around the extensive river front. I can still remember, with surprise, seeing the bright lights of Fred Olsen’s cruise ships which occasionally docked in West India Docks – the thrill of taking my parents through the Blackwall Tunnel to join the ship bound for the Canary Isles was indeed memorable. Well, last night in the early hours I was woken by the deeper vibrations of a pair of tugs which had come upstream to escort a similar glittering craft outward bound – it takes just over an hour to go up the port of London and return with the glittering prize on the outward bound voyage – I wondered if the passengers were still awake but no doubt the strangeness of their surroundings, the variation of noise, in anticipation of esturial sea movement indicated a late breakfast for one and all. I felt reassured as the familiar coaster followed behind, timed to take full advantage of the ebb tide on it’s daily trip into Essex rivers, yet another load of fine yellow sand bound for Deptford creek cement works.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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