Archive by Author | RiverWatch returns

Kent’s Cuttings

Kent’s Cuttings – Riverwatch returns a plethora of press cuttings which brightened our extended lockdown.

This illuminated scroll prepared by the Stationers Company was delivered by a crew from the Ahoy Sailing Centre, conveyed from the Terrace of the House of Commons by the trim ‘Edwardian’ with her open deck providing a great view of the ceremony ashore and also a cruise downstream to historic Rotherhithe from where the great trans-Atlantic originally sailed. This leaflet tells the tale devised by the late Peter Warwick who dreamt up such historic re-enactments, God bless his soul.

I was invited to witness this occasion but, suffering from a gammy leg joint, enjoyed this all by a well-timed return trip up to Battersea and back, taking note of the newly opened US Embassy, and travelling on the recently restyled Uber Boat by Thames Clippers with its airline-type seating.

Another ‘world first’ was the sight of a vast global inflated world suspended amidst the ORNC Painted Hall’s spacious grandeur – another GDIF triumph in mounting so many occasions in our ever-changing neck of the woods. Bravo to Bradley Hemmings for this year’s 25th anniversary of the
Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

Just as I was turning into bed, I was woken by the steady beat of a powerful ship’s engine as it glided past the house. A large red lion was painted on to the hull. This was one of the few Royal Navy patrol ships which guard our coasts attempting to keep the number of illegal immigrants at bay. She
was steaming up to the Pool to show off the government’s intent.

Thoughts on Lockdown

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Find out more about the Morden Wharf proposals down on the Peninsular ….



… even better attend the Greenwich Society AGM – “come virtually” 10th September 19.00 – best get in early ….!



Just allowing my thoughts to wonder a little ….

…take a stroll downstream on the splendid ORNC frontage – home of The University of Greenwich & Trinity College of Music  – carry on along the Canaletto picture to behind the Trafalgar Tavern with its  new spectacular hanging gardens along Crane Street – a residential passageway of old – which has been continued to the elegant Trinity Hospital – before it dives into obscurity by the last industrial giant of London Underground’s power station – its Georgian terrace at Ballast Quay- a unique working wharf of old into ancient marsh land now gobbled up by massive housing scheme which grows bigger every year – see the photo (page 4) montage of even more proposals – see if you can spot the giant gas holders, one of a pair which has finally been demolished in spite of Mary Mills pleas. Only Blackwall’s grandiose tunnel entrance remains as London’s magnificent Docklands has been swept away – alas Francis Ward another friend and worthy historian has past on – farewell..

Giant Sewer movements on the tideway

Tug away folks as new energy has been expanded onto the tide.  Trying to catch up with the enforced river closure by lockdown.  Old new friends claim the right of passage as they return in force.  New hooters sound out as full service returns to the regular Thames Clipper timetable – or so it seems – many appearing in fresh identity.  It’s been a fortnight since we both took a welcome return trip up to Westminster and back in order to catch up with old Father Thames’ renewed energy, but have to report many anchorages still full of craft.

Our local rowers are back in earnest trying to reactivate their regular summer outings, but only singles are permitted.  We miss their  crunch on the foreshore making most of the daylight hours between the ever-changing tides as commercial craft proclaim their right of passage.  Accurate timing is required when moving great loads.



Late yesterday afternoon I was suddenly aware of the   passing shadow of a giant structure on the move as a giant tunnel rig machine is barged up to its launching pad in the Lower Pool.


Months of tunnel boring primed for the launch of its super sewer tunnel machine. (Not too dissimilar to Brunel’s Thames Tunnel back in 1869 – a site worth visiting just down stream in Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, tel: 020 7321 3840).



Lockdown on the River Thames

The sudden silence imposed along the tideway was almost complete as the government clamped down on commercial traffic.  For the first time we heard dawn’s bird song from the Isle of Dogs – the silence reflected the stillness which we had never really witnessed.  We could hear the clarity of the really early dawn chorus as gulls and waders searched the empty shoreline for breakfast.

The regular patrols from the police, the harbour master continued – and only essential civil engineering took place as tugs towed a new breed of barges to keep giant civil engineering apace up and down their marine building site with its new piers and embankments.

A fortnight of almost complete silence was really scary as mirror like images span from bankside to bank.  Even the lofty skyscrapers, highlighted by flashing navigation lights, seem to echo around the jet-free skyways.  The lack of road traffic and rumble of commuter trains induced long oversleeping. However the giant workforce will come to life again and that eerie silence will eventually be shattered as energy returns.

Way down stream essential industry and food and fuel distribution, even shipping, staggered back to life.  Only the ranks of parked cruise ships in and around Tilbury Docks emphasised the acres of sites where far sprung container ships waited to re-join the great global trade routes and spring into life again.

Superb summer weather teased the furloughed to stir again, and planners to retrain the ambitious, on line, for a return to work.  Time will tell how the promised rebound will turn out.  This sketch map, first published in 2013, might well re-energise the concepts and hopes of yesteryear and give incentive to upgrade the dreams of creating another Canary Wharf way down stream!!

Tilbury Two

Thoughts on Lockdown on the Thames

We’ve enjoyed the start of summer early as the geese and other early birds on Island Gardens wake up, their calls crossing the silent river as Canary Wharf dreams away.  We also hear the dawn chorus from the great Greenwich Hospital Estate, bereft of students, its gates firmly closed to one and all.

No Thames Clipper or incoming aircraft wake us from our slumbers as the capital has shut down because of the dreaded plague.  Just the sound of determined runners sprinting by making up for their cancelled marathon.  No early rowers from our next-door rowing centre or the splash and rattle of blades as crew set out for their Sunday practice.  No commuters chattering their way along our Crane Street ancient passageway to and from their daily business chores.

An on-going project means re-reading Samuel Pepys’ accounts of regular rendezvous with John Evelyn up at the Kings Dockyard in Deptford.  This helps me with my graphic visualisation of the Elizabethan manor house at Sayes Court and the peace of those remarkable gardens which so impressed the great and the good.  Further investigations made me aware that, just next door to the dock wall in the Royal Dock, an iron foundry was busy building those fine and interesting naval vessels which worked all the hours of daylight.  Perhaps we are experiencing the quietest time ever on our great maritime waterway.  That’s a thought to savour and enjoy.

This long-lasting project at Deptford can be viewed from my studio’s upstream vista, over both the Rowing Club and Trafalgar Tavern roofs up to Creekmouth with the Royal Dockyard beyond including the Master Shipwright’s House and Convoys Wharf on the bend of Greenwich Reach.  Part cleared building land and the famed early Georgian Olympic slipway cover an extensive waterfront all awaiting development.  It’s my intention during lockdown to depict various aerial views aided by the excellent monograph published by the Museum of London following the extensive excavations of 2000-2012.

VE day 3


From the highest to the deepest.

April Riverwatch – From the highest to the deepest.
New reflections revealed across Greenwich Reach

These bright Spring ‘lockdown’ mornings reveal a new joy as the rising sun sparkles on the skyscrapers, forming far-reaching reflections across the tideway.

The last of the solitary high-perched cranes help to tidy up South Quay’s loftiest new build opposite central Canary Wharf – a twin block cheekily sited at an angle to the waterfront, a much admired use of a dockside location close to South Dock DLR.

All is of interest to those who wish to live and work in this premier financial centre which I am sure will survive with its dramatic views across docklands, the river, the startling Canary Wharf architecture, and with the dignity of established Greenwich just across the river a few stops on the DLR. Developers need to complete projects soonest!!! So I have been keeping a beady eye on the crane operator – 70 floors up!!
Meanwhile, under terra firma, tunnellers for the Super Sewer under Deptford Creek need to keep going, so tug-driven barges are bringing raw materials in, including tunnel sections. The essential removal of spoil keeps pace with the use of smaller tugs which can pass under rail and road bridges.
Their passage to Creekmouth is awaited by ‘mother’ tug to haul the heavily loaded spoil barges downstream. They join in the NHS support action by exchanging hooter signals to riverside supporters at the appointed time. Bravo!!


Here’s Peter Kent submitting yet another Riverwatch report

The ebb and flow of the Thames invites leisure craft to get up and go, especially when the SW winds blow setting the sailing craft from Ahoy off for a spin downstream, the escorting tender and youngsters at the ready for a sail back to base at Deptford HQ.

A classic yacht motored down from St Katherines Marina, escaping to open waters away from the capital.  A long Dutch houseboat headed upstream from her winter quarters on her way to moorings beyond the capital perhaps.  Another classic sailing craft of Dutch origin headed downstream alongside ‘Devout’ – one of our local tugs – on to a summer mooring.

ebb and flow 3

Also using the ebb, our only sand ballast ship plying the tideway on her daily mission heads downstream from Fulham to just beyond Gravesend where she will load another cargo of freshly de-salted, sea-dredged aggregate from the Thames Estuary.  Remarkable to think of that Foulness sand bank passing by…

ebb and flow 2

John Greenleaf used to run the Prior fleet out of my home port of Colchester (Fingringhoe Wharf just opposite Wivenhoe) – a daily service to Brewery Wharf on Deptford Creek, where the cement mix was added and then dispatched to building sites here abouts.

ebb and flow 1

As a lad I used to cycle around the Fingringhoe pits – an adventure playground – and wave goodbye to the loaded coasters London bound.  Alas, this historic daily service is no more.

ebb and flow 4

Tug ‘Devout’ returns to base after her 50-minute job.

An octogenarian river watcher reports yet again from his Greenwich eyrie

Unexpected swings of weather extremes are certainly making a mark as London, yet again, reacts to them.  New panoramas open up as great storms rearrange the usual grey outlook which citizens associate with March, and spring threatens to burst upon us revealing storm-cleared vistas through the trees prior to the welcome return of a leafy London.

The tide line is also rapidly changing as once-hidden pier pilings and extensive chalk reefs are exposed by the increased speed of river traffic and tidal flow, once used by our forebears to utilise level riverside moorings.  Riverside moorings, once used by our forebears, have fast become obscured from sight as riverside loading into the once-crowded warehouses is now replaced by vast new distribution centres linked to the M25 hinterland.  New developments rely on a hard, modernised, concrete waterline, and we see the original tidal marshland acres rapidly disappear.

On once-marshy Greenwich Peninsula, the last giant gasholders are unpicked for redevelopment as this busy spine is readdressed for a network of new cross-river tunnels, and access roads attempt to relieve the dense traffic trap of the essential north-south Blackwall Tunnel.

Alas, the ancient river crossing at Woolwich is being frustrated by manning problems as new vessels have been introduced.  Especially relevant as giant new residential areas, due to be served by the proposed DLR extensions to the east, loom over the old Dockland zone around City Airport – perhaps snarling up the giant new wholesale markets planned to ease Smithfield, Billingsgate, Covent Garden and such.

Just now, the view from my studio window towards Canary Wharf is remarkable well beyond the Dockland dream, as skyscraper office buildings contend with neighbouring new residential skyscrapers to outsmart the City of London, Mayfair and Dubai!!


One cannot ignore London’s ancient river superhighway as Father Thames provides a rapid ferry service for both passengers and cargo.  New craft abound, recently built especially for the conveyance of spoil from the riverside tunnelling complex for the new super sewer’s construction sites all along the tideway and waterway network serving the capital, together with additional passenger piers serving new residential schemes both upstream and downstream right into the heart of the capital.



Across the tideway

Not so many years ago, when the cross-river panorama was a scene of depression, many wharves were derelict, lacking the graceful cranes which were once busy around West India Dock.  The cross-river foot tunnel was once an essential link to the acres of working docks.  The extraordinary sight of a floodlit cruise ship importing bananas contrasting with the acres of dereliction as trade moved further downstream to the realm of new container ports.

I can recall taking my mother to board one of Fred Olsen’s ‘boats’ for a winter cruise to and from the West Indies.  Nowadays giant office blocks are still under construction lining the once-busy wharves.  Since then we moved down to Crane Street, a humble section of the Thames Path contrasting with the glory of Wren’s great masterpiece, now a thriving university campus.  Tripper boats from London turn about just here, ideal for tourists a glimpse of the gorgeous Trafalgar Tavern, the humble Yacht pub and rowing club next door.BRWEC5C68B2947C_000285

Alas, the wild weather had diverted regular rowers to exercise in their new facilities’ purpose-built gym next door across the alleyway.  Care needs to be taken to traverse the busy cycle way and exercising runners, popular even in the worst of storm ‘Dennis’, which threatened our trip to Oxford to celebrate Caroline Dixon’s 80th in the Ashmolean Museum.  It was great to see all the family and friends from yesteryear.  We used to meet up with the Dixons at Henley Regatta for a dip and supper after the racing had finished.  The Thames Valley in high summer provides a bucolic scene beyond compare.  Once a Greenwich neighbour, Stephen Dixon was a keen rower, a member of the Poplar Blackwall and District Rowing club on the Isle of Dogs close by the Greenwich foot tunnel with its own riverside club house and slipway.

The Ahoy Centre in Deptford has its own facilities for rowing and features Thames traditional craft for enthusiasts who wish to take part in the traditional race up to Richmond and beyond each summer, a race which attracts some 250 craft – an amazing sight.