Apologies folks for the lack of recent reports from the river. This old boy took a tumble and found himself upstream at Lewisham Hospital for a two-week stint investigating my damaged coxis (that’s the base of my back – not fun for an eighty-year-old).
Now I’m back on duty but taking things easy. I was indeed fortunate to find myself on the top floor of the new wing of Lewisham Hospital, which overlooks Ladywell fields with its delightful riverside situation wedged between. The view was upstream of the Ravensbourne and its valley-like location, with tall trees, tennis courts and landscaped surroundings all the way down to Deptford Bridge and Docklands beyond (too far away to sketch!!).
It has been an eerie return as my stretch of the Thames has never been so quiet – little or no commercial traffic, the occasional PLA and Police patrol boat, a fire float and rib lifeboat disturbing the majesty of Canary Wharf sky scrapers half empty, but signs of residential refuges behind cosy homes as their lights twinkle, all reflected in the still, still tideway – uncanny!! Not an airliner to be seen queueing for landing at LHR or London City airports.
Marvellous spring-like weather encouraged a Chelsea launch cruise down – a classic design of yesteryear. Also to report a small flotilla of tugs heading upstream with a chunk of brow off to a new pier landing stage – no doubt able to navigate with ease through forlorn upstream bridges all bereft of any maritime activity. But joy of joys, sailing barge ‘May’ of Maldon (the Essex base of such elegant craft) fully refurbished for a new season of hope on our local waterways.
London’s New Year celebration was switched secretly from Westminster down to the O2 area
around Blackwall. The usual ‘lighters’ launched the massive display near to Trinity Buoy Wharf with
all its celebratory facilities. The ever-active watermen were able to mount such a massive firework
display with expert skill extending it with an exciting use of drones giving global T.V. coverage an
Guess what? The Kents had ‘turned in’ as fireworks had been popping off over all the festive season.
We were awoken by this extraordinary barrage so similar to the Millennium celebrations
remembered by the whole world!! Memories came flooding back of a packed ‘deck’ full of chums,
some with monster rockets to loose off as the century slipped past. What a memorable 20 years!! I
can report that our neck of the Thames is as busy as ever with so many docklands developments still
on stream mostly towards Silvertown, with the promise of a new cross-river toll tunnel adding even
more traffic chaos to the Peninsula. At least the tunnel spoil will aid river defence upstream of the
Chris Livett reports of exciting new events to come on the tideway for us to look forward to!
Meanwhile essential commercial trade continues with tug and barge traffic handling civic waste and
civil engineering on the Super Sewer project, which is vast!!
New Year Greetings to one and all.
Lively families thronged the narrow passageways and the ancient riverside street contrasting with
the more recent promenades which provide generous cycle and mixture of runways for athletes and
dads navigating prams, pushchairs and grandparents – all creating bonhomie. Alas, some landlords
upset the local law who were swift in dishing out eye-watering fines. We have dined splendidly on
take out Sunday lunches with all the trimmings – alas we should have restricted ourselves by sharing
portions – but what a joy as we delved into our beautifully presented brown carrier bag. Bravo
indeed as ‘au point’ beef was a true delight.
Back home to admire the splendid tennis just down the road at the O2 – the ‘Nitto ATP Finals’. The
O2 was ablaze with floodlighting which the world shared with us ratepayers who were nowhere to
be heard or to be seen – just the dashing ‘ball boys’ dashing around the coloured court as practised
in Henry V111 glorious days, so brilliantly acted out by my favourite historians on a choice of
channels!! Local limousines conveyed the contestants from the InterContinental just down the way
– I also spotted the occasional bedroom suite lit up with unusual occupancy in these dark and dreary
Meanwhile over in Canary Wharf, ablaze with Manhattan splendour, even more contenders switch
on for the first time as developments come to life on completion – some 40 storeys high!! (the
highest living accommodation in London!).
Also another surprise – a fleet of tug-towed lighters laden to the gunnels with a chalky substance
heading downstream to some suitable dump. Trying desperately to identify which part of the super
sewer it has been mined from in their tunnelling venues – obviously from an upstream reach,
perhaps Limehouse? There’s been much activity at Victoria Deep Water wharf where a major
aggregate facility has been constructed to load and off-load sea-dredged products for the
construction industry. I look forward to sea-going craft trading here.
I also wish to thank the Othens for all work on Riverwatch, turning my monthly into presentable
form – I wish them well and for their kindness over the years. Bravo!
Best wishes to one and all!
A new slant to a ‘bee’s eye view’ of Greenwich
One of the joys of living by the river as depicted by the Italian master painter Canaletto is to be part of the ‘Greenwich Hospital’ masterpiece circa 1750 showing the wonderful river frontage. ‘The Crane’ can be spotted at the head of our street which alas is no longer there. But do walk down the little ‘Crane Street’ passageway where Frank Dowling has mounted a magnificent floral display throughout the seasons, just recently revitalised by a team of elevated plants men from across the Channel!! Our little street has to be closed during the installation this ‘Fall’. Worth a visit, the Trafalgar Tavern is revitalised to palace standards: paintings galore feature on every wall – so do go and view on the ground floor and on the wonderful first floor riverside grand reception rooms.
Likewise the internationally known Painted Hall, reached by the grand avenue of the Old Royal Naval College – now the University of Greenwich, is open again after its fantastic restoration. Do visit the undercroft where once guests at the State Banquets were primed before climbing up the grand stairs to Britain’s biggest dining room. Through the years I have been fortunate to attend Trafalgar Day celebrations. James Thornhill’s ceiling is indeed another masterpiece to savour in its magnitude, especially in candlelight, with diners celebrating Naval traditions, music provided by the Band of the Royal Marines – wow!!!
As a fellow artist I have depicted such occasions with Guildhall and Fishmongers Hall just as the guests settle after the honoured guests file in. Somehow I think those days are over, but one can recall with pleasure.
I have often thought of Canaletto and his grand clients taking the ferry over to Island Gardens to select and study his viewpoint perched on the then sea wall keeping tide and grazing cattle at bay! Those were days before the camera could hold the view, never mind the architectural and maritime detail. Let’s rejoice in these treasures, now there for all to see.
Don’t forget to see the Bee Hive store in the Painted Hall undercroft – also an excellent shop selling Christmas presents galore!! (The association with bees comes from those that were kept at the Old Friary, later built over by Henry VIII’s Tudor Palace.
I must be the luckiest of enthusiastic river waters on duty every moment of day and night – the outlook through our windows changes according to the state of the tide affecting the amount of shipping and other craft.
When we first came to live in Greenwich high on the Heath, we just heard the hoots and toots of passing vessels. But the reality of living over the river wall is that we hear the break of waves forever changing with the state of tides – beyond one’s dreams of a young man who couldn’t keep away from tidal waters.
It’s some twenty years since we did a house swap from Diamond Terrace to Crane Street – from the Greenwich home of John Masefield to an ancient river-side alley way which has grown into a pedestrian and cyclist escape from busy Trafalgar Road. Now with the amazing growth of East Greenwich with its multitude of multi-storey apartment blocks, runners mix with the strollers and the kids going to school – we old folk having to dodge the plugged speeders who pass without a word!
Our two neighbouring taverns have increased in popularity since the lock down. Many more young fathers taking over from the working mums – so it’s pretty lively with those who rely on a quick half or two! Now the evenings are drawing in, the lights twinkle even more as offices empty. Do come down and see the remarkable changes in the riverside scene, be drawn to the hanging baskets of wonderful flowers adorning the Trafalgar which Frank Dowling has installed, as well as maritime decoration including a formidable parade of Royal Navy emblems which ships were entitled to display. Venture inside to see his amazing collection of maritime paintings and artifacts, surely the most elaborate on any shoreline! Visitors can dine or wine at grand riverside tables both within and on the quayside adjacent to the Old Royal Naval College – now the campus of Greenwich University. What an ideal venue to impress our failing empire!! Let’s hope that the lights of commerce continue to sparkle as tugs and lighters serve the riverside engineers building new tunnels and the remarkable new sewers which become even more essential to our financial investments along Father Thames.
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.
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..
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).
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!!
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.