A Kentish day trip
Yesterday a car load of four ‘history boys’ motored down to Gravesend to enjoy the varied waterfront seen on an away day. A somewhat damp morning set a Dickensian feeling as we viewed the shipping on the tideway. Ro-Ro ferries to Dunkirk seen from the amazing cast iron town pier built in 1834 – a new spur pontoon facilitates the cross river ferry to Tilbury, operated by ‘Princess Pocahontas’ during the winter. In the summer she’s on the run to Southend and up to Greenwich and the Pool of London, which I highly recommended.
We viewed the diverse riverside architecture and paid our respects to the statue of the Indian princess presented by the Governor of Virginia USA in 1958 and located in the churchyard of St. George’s Church with its landmark spire which marked the arrival of shipping from Empire and Commonwealth – the equivalent of Heathrow as passengers for London checked in and out.
Across the river at Tilbury, a purpose built landing stage which operated when larger ships plied the global routes. Tilbury Fort, another significant landmark, was part of a complex of forts which protected London – see the exhibition all about Pepys at the NMM!!
Just downstream we viewed the PLA’s major operational hub and Denton Pier, the base for the new ‘London Triton’, a replacement for ‘Crossness’ and ‘Hookness’ which had handled the buoys and moorings along the tideway. Her two efficient new cranes were put to work at Enderby Wharf to remove the last of the off-shore moorings utilised by the Cable ships of old, having done a show-off to Greenwich of her amazing movability – she did a twirl for the Press!
Also, down at Denton, we saw Gloriana installed in her winter home, encased against storm and snow. It’s a shame that a suggested base at Dowells Dock here in Greenwich hasn’t been taken up so that the public can see this remarkable Royal Barge replica from Deptford Bridge and the historic Dowells Dock part of the Waitrose complex.
Seemingly at the end of the world, The Ship and Lobster known as the first and last pub on the Thames which featured in Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ certainly came up trumps as we were served with a substantial lunch, even though it was after two and not pre-arranged!
One of my remarkable memories is of the late Mike Turk, a renowned waterman and past master, who purpose-built a replica of Hornblower‘s man of war for film making in Turkey. She lay in St. Katharine’s Dock and was invited to attend ‘Navy Day’ at Chatham Dockyard. On board for a voyage down the Thames and up the Medway, I was astonished that the ‘Grand Turk’ put about in order to return the traditional courtesy of the Gravesend Yacht Club who lowered their red ensign in salute. The port control at Gravesend would have noted this extraordinary happening just on their doorstep! A wonderful and noble seafarer who also raised the gauntlet to challenge crews to take part in the first Great River Race. The Turks were true men of the Thames, boat owners based in Kingston upon Thames.