Riverwatch is 25 years old!
Exactly twelve years ago, I reviewed the events that Riverwatch had recorded over the previous 13 years. 25 years ago, we had only just moved down to our riverside house – having done a very happy house-swap – and had invite out friends to admire our new world alongside the Royal Naval College and the Trafalgar Tavern. Desmond and Carol Pritchard had been producing their relaunched version of ‘the Guide’ in Blackheath and were always on the lookout for an occasional front cover.
My enthusiasm was no doubt over the top and eventually Desmond, the editor, said: “Peter, put your pen to paper. Tell the folk up the hill all about it”. And so, Riverwatch was conceived, exactly 25 years ago!
My first reports were based on my observations on shipping and other craft that traded on the Thames. Back in those days, large merchant ships were commonplace. Giant white ‘roll-on,roll-off’ freighters delivered great rolls of newsprint to the purpose-built Convoy’s Wharf at Deptford. Coasters from the Rhine brought in steel plate and emerald green Irish freighters brought maize.
But things quickly started to change. Before our eyes, the developers moved in to disused wharves and towering blocks of flats popped up everywhere. We saw the birth pains of a new city over in Canary Wharf, marvelling at the Manhattan madness but revelling in each new shopping mall and restaurant complex. How fortunate I was to sketch the exhilarating scene, clinging onto my dust-blown sketch book balanced amongst the towering cranes, meeting both the astonished locals and the enthusiastic engineers.
How I recall enjoying the first DLR to Greenwich and the sparkling new Jubilee Line which has magically annexed our communities to the heart of the capital through a bevy of under-river tunnels. Soon, City Airport was to have a direct link to Woolwich to spur even more regeneration.
The spectacle of the (sadly unloved at the time) Dome rising out of the polluted peninsula is remembered with pride. We gasped as the great pylons were erected and soon the ingenious roof created not only to cope with the Millennium Experience but later for the vast entertainment complex of the O2. Plans for the new peninsula proceeded, and we now have a complete new town on our doorstep.
Every daily tide brought new surprises – perhaps an aircraft carrier or two, reminding me of the ceremonial salutes exchanged between inco9ming warships and the Royal Naval College at the last sailing of HMY Britannia and the closure celebrations as the navy left Greenwich for good in 1998 (not a dry eye to be seen).
The splendid refurbishment of Wren’s great building has since opened up a gateway between East and West Greenwich and welcomed the students of University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music. Now citizens and visitors can stroll through these architectural gems with ease and delight.
Back in 2006, refurbishment of the Visitor Centre, the Cutty Sark and Cutty Sark Gardens were still at planning stage. Sir Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth IV had recently been removed from display, only to run aground on some isolated Pacific Reef!
Alas, I have to report the sad news of the passing of Desmond Pritchett at his home by the sea in Bournemouth – a jolly chap who enjoyed many a new year celebration with his Blackheath chums, outings to Cherbourg for tall ship events, even travelling to Hong Kong for the seven-a-side rugby. After the Kents moved down to Greenwich waterfront, it was friends Desmond and Carol Pritchett who inspired me to write and illustrate a monthly article for their restored and sparkling Guide Magazine. Riverwatch then became a ‘blog’ – ‘Riverwatch Returns’ – generously produced by Tony and Helen Othen, based on the same style and content as before and has survived now for 25 years!!