A river journey of splendour
Feeling slightly hung over from a full day out on the river, my attention was drawn to a very fast flotilla of River Police out on exercise speeding downstream. The leading launch led a pair of high speed ‘ribs’ packed with coppers all clad in dark uniforms, primed for sudden action!
What a contrast to our ‘royal’ progress from the Palace of Westminster up to glorious Hampton Court, passing Lambeth Palace, Fulham Palace, Kew Palace, Syon House, the site of Nonsuch Palace at Richmond, Kingston upon Thames and then to glorious Hampton Court, set in vast Deer Park bordering a mile or so on the North Bank.
Our 11 o’clock boat from Westminster Pier (direct connection from the Jubilee Line) travelled with ease up the rising tideway providing us with an elevated view point over the embankment and lawns. By chance we spotted the new Royal Barge ‘Gloriana’ being towed downstream close to where she was launched at the ‘London Apprentice’ at Isleworth two years ago. I explained to my noble friend and companion Peter Edwards what a memorable occasion that was. The freshly completed craft was craned into the rising tide. When all were satisfied, the 18 oared vessel set out on her maiden voyage. The thrash and crack of unified blades set the resident geese and ducks into the air with surprise and the spectators cheered with pride.
Peter was no newcomer to rowing as his student days at the Quinton School and later at the Regent Street Poly brought him weekly to this beautiful stretch of the tideway.
We both recalled our joint passage through the capital in a work boat to be ready as a ‘safety boat’ for a post Coronation party in 1952 on board a Thames Lighter moored close to Southwark Bridge. We students hijacked a handcart used to transport a trio of the giant Elizabethan roses which decorated Oxford Circus during the Coronation. Our memorable passageway through Trafalgar Square and down Fleet Street drew much comment from pushy cabbies who ruled the road (even then!). The worthy lightermen had roofed and floored the great, empty hull and provided gangways and safe passage for us students to jive the night away. The lighter was there for its bi-annual refit and provided a bohemian atmosphere which echoed under Canon Street Rail Bridge. Nobody had to be fished out of the water, much to the relief of the River Police who kept a beady eye on our celebrations. We were all a bit alarmed when the lighter grounded at low water, suddenly tilted and turned the dancers into mountain climbers – oh what joys!!
So our recent river journey brought back so many memories for us both – sketch club outings to the Anchor at Southbank, also to the Festival of Britain which we managed to preview; armed with official looking boards and paper, we bluffed our way around the sites at the South Bank and up at Battersea Park (Festival Gardens). As part of our studies we had Port of London passes to permit us entrance to the Royal Docks to sketch the busy – now forgotten – port scenes.
Our ‘all day’ outing travelling by boat can be really recommended on board Colliers Launch the Connaught – a traditional tripper boat manned by a cheerful and informative crew (0181 8920741). We left at 11.00, reached Hampton at 12.45 and returned at 3.00 and were back by 6.00pm.
We were both shaken by the extensive new high rise developments which have so dramatically changed the riparian scenery from Lambeth up to Putney Bridge – a warning for what we South Londoners are in for between historic Greenwich down to the O2 and along Bugsbys Reach, which might well be renamed to ‘Watermans Reach’ to celebrate their 500th year!