Historic memories

Greenwich Pier on a misty November day is not the most alluring venue.  But lunching with ex neighbours was indeed a pleasure in the comfort of Zizzi’s pier-side restaurant.  The tripper boats looked forlorn in the gloom, but a few stalwarts insisted on taking in the Greenwich scene to the full, standing on a drizzle-soaked open deck, too early for the illumination and floodlighting to have been switched on, but so evocative of the London river of yesteryear.

On our stroll home I realised that the stone gateways leading to the Visitors’ Centre had at long last been identified by precise moulded lettering, gilded in fine fashion, which I showed to Ian Morton-Wright who, while on National Service, had served under Lewin on a destroyer in the Med.  ‘The Levin Gate’ had been dedicated by the Duke of Edinburgh some years ago, when all that was to be seen was a narrow, walled pathway, usually covered in graffiti.  I remember so well the amazement that HRH was to dedicate this as a memorial gate to honour Lord Terry Lewin of Falkland War fame.  I can also remember Lewin’s skilful and humble presentation to the Friends of the NMM gathered in the Queens’ House, telling of how he had been summoned by Maggie Thatcher to sum up whether it was feasible to reclaim the colony by a force of Naval and Merchant Navy vessels.  Lewin’s confirmation that the fleet was ready and able to set sail sparked an instant and daring command of historic import!

On another occasion at the NMM’s summer boat show in front of the Queen’s House, I witnessed Lord Lewin discussing with a model maker what year his achievement represented.  Poring over the ‘beached’ model, a minor detail was fervently disputed.  I had to explain later that Terry Lewin had commanded that ship and – damn it all – he was the First Sea Lord too!


Would you believe it, as I write, two tugs passed upstream towards the Pool escorting HMS St. Alban – a type 23 frigate on her way up to moor alongside HMS Belfast, only just visible in the early evening gloom as she passed the ORNC – green strip lights suddenly illuminated a helicopter on her flight deck and the crew mustering for the traditional line up along her taff rails.

A similar event took place in Malta when the much respected Lt. Commander Terry Lewin RN left his ship HMS Corunna – a destroyer – for a higher command, the crew lined the vessel in respect, according to Ian Moreton Wright while he was doing his national service.  …Small world!!

Just as I was concluding this, a handsome super-yacht motored past with Bacchus pennant fluttering in the gloom.  Binoculars in hand, I see she was registered in Valetta – Malta strikes again!!


Winter Riverwatch

The bleakness of a late November afternoon on the East Greenwich waterfront is suddenly punctured with an array of amazing floodlights over the numerous construction sites.  The sparkling, red danger lights on the lofty cranes scare off the passing helicopter, or perhaps a flight from JFK descending into City Airport.  The movement of every bulldozer is captured by rotating yellow beacons.  The offloading of sea aggregate at Victoria Deep Water Wharf from an Arco dredger with its lengthy mechanical conveyor job adds even more drama.

The big surprise of seeing an oil rig structure being towed into the anchorage of yesteryear – where the memory of gleaming white cable ships loaded miles and miles of transatlantic telecommunication cable (manufactured in the extensive riverside plant run by STC and, later Alcatel), historic Enderby Wharf is getting new life.

The Red 7 Marine jack-up barge with its four giant legs could be floated to the required work positions in order to drill down into the river bed to survey the proposed site of London Cruise Ship Port.  Just like a mid-ocean oil rig, the blaze of light added to the excitement of its purpose – to establish the necessary complex to receive large cruise ships into the capital, with a suitable shore base to receive masses of rich tourists!

Red 7 Marine are based at Wrabness on the River Stour, close to Parkeston Quay and the Port of Harwich.  Recently they have been busy installing RNLI lifeboat stations suitable for the latest sophisticated life boats.  Slipways and boathouses require upgrading and Red 7, with their Haven Seariser 2 and 3 and their 250 tonne jack-up barges can operate at sea or in the more sheltered reaches of the Thames.

Another visitor from Harwich – home port of Trinity House – was their fast response tender ‘Ahoy’, a familiar craft which I have enjoyed illustrating.  Come and see my December exhibition at The Greenwich Gallery where my extensive Review of Trinity House activities are on view – a remarkable enterprise which kept me extremely busy during 2014.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

One response to “Historic memories”

  1. David Snelson says :

    Peter; very enjoyable as ever – particularly as I see less of the river these days. One small point; Lord Lewin was Chief of the Defence Staff when the Falklands were invaded and he was in New Zealand. Wasn’t it Sir Henry Leach who went to see the PM in the House of Commons?

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