Up the Creek and back again


Through the years I have monitored the tidal Deptford Creek which was, before the arrival of the DLR line to Lewisham, a secret world of warehouses and industry behind high walls and steel fencing.

Norman Road and Creekside were no-go areas for the curious – glimpses from South Eastern trains were all too brief to evaluate the waterside activity. A memorable guided walk at low tide and also a boat trip revealed the natural treasures which once lined the wooden Creekside walls which were designed for coastal shipping serving the giant flour mills clustered around Deptford road bridge.


Invited by the Deptford Inner City group to investigate the wonders of the Mumford giant flour mill prior to development was indeed a revelation. Disturbing the pigeon residents, one eventually made the roof top which provided spectacular views of this historic bridge at the head of the tidal waters. Upstream, Thames Waters reservoirs and pumping station treated the fresh water from the Ravensbourne river which rises beyond Bromley and is joined by a quartet of other streams which gathered at Lewisham, creating power for numerous historic water mills – some used by Henry VIII armourers and cloth mills too.

Barges and lighters abounded, serving shipping in the Thames itself, also in and out of London’s vast dockland system. Surprisingly, Brewery Wharf just by Creek Road and Norman Road still boasts a daily service to the cement distribution wharf. The Prior family business had a fleet of small coasters which sailed from their Fingringhoe sand pits on the River Colne just downstream from Colchester (my home town!) – as a lad I revelled in ship spotting, and Thames Sprit sail barges still remain an interest, especially as they gather for their annual barge matches in and around the Thames Estuary.

Alas, I fear that my daily sighting of Prior’s coaster might well be coming to an end as their production at Fingringhoe pit has finished and their vessels now trade from Denton near Gravesend where sea-dredged ballast is washed and dispatched to the upper tidal reaches of the Capital.

The oncoming construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel is well in hand and construction started on this giant sewage handling enterprise along 25 kilometres of mega tunnels running well below the tideway. Deptford’s original pumping station is the site of major works and can be seen fro the DLR, and also from the Halfpenny Hatch foot bridge.


To view the extraordinary developments up and down the creek, why not visit the Trinity Laban’s Stirling prize winning building– well worth it. But look hard, as its new high rise neighbours are crowding in. Fine views of the Creek can be seen here where coastal shipping used to swing round in this once-busy reach. Reminders of this activity can be seen at a mixed mooring facility still in use by enthusiasts, and further – on the Greenwich side upstream at the head of the Creek. Let’s have more activity in this once-hidden waterway which will be viewed from the new high rise residential developments. The low rise Laban Dance Centre, set in its almost rural Creekside situation, is a ‘must see’ for our fast changing world. Its in-house coffee house is recommended too – I welcome your comments.


About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

One response to “Up the Creek and back again”

  1. Paul Holden says :

    Hi Re. your comments on the Prior fleet recently, in which you suggested that operations from their base in Fingringhoe has finished, I too have followed closely the fortunes of the little Prior fleet. Today I undertook a journey, which I have long intended, by taking the train to Wivenhoe, which as you know is across the river from the Prior extraction site. I can report that there were signs of considerable activity. A digger was continuously at work loading sand onto a truck which was busily driving back and forth depositing it at the quayside. Furthermore at the weekend I tracked the Bert Prior on my Live Ships map and it certainly made the trip from base to Deptford Creek. The Mark Prior was at anchor on the quayside today, but I suspect it isn’t active at the moment. In conclusion, it appears that all is not yet lost! Regards Paul Holden

    On Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 1:04 PM, RiverWatch returns wrote:

    > RiverWatch returns posted: ” Through the years I have monitored the tidal > Deptford Creek which was, before the arrival of the DLR line to Lewisham, a > secret world of warehouses and industry behind high walls and steel > fencing. Norman Road and Creekside were no-go areas f” >

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