On the spur of the moment on a bright, spring-like Sunday, we decided a trip on the fast ferry up to town and back would be a joy. A gathering at the pier was quickly shepherded down to the landing pontoon and aboard, and we were on our way before the incoming tripper boats arrived from Central London.
Many other families, some with push chairs, boarded at various piers as we criss-crossed the tideway avoiding the occasional scullers and rowers who also use the river at weekends.
Passengers disembarked at the Central London piers bound for numerous attractions on both sides of the river. On our return trip we picked up passengers from Tower Pier bound for Greenwich. We were amused and amazed at the different age groups and nationalities, all handled with skill by the mooring crew and on-board stewards.
On the next day, Monday’s London-bound commuters were serviced just before PLA Titan’s floating crane came alongside the Greenwich Pier to change the pair of pontoons, due to be worked on at nearby Devrills (Victoria Deep Water Wharf) floating docks. I was on the lookout for the many civil and maritime engineers hard at work on numerous sites. I have never seen so many before – no wonder as a whole new raft of major projects have come on stream! An extract from the Times includes a map and details of various projects. A visit to the Tideway site at Bermondsey clarified my interests in SE London – I include items which might be of interest.
The Bermondsey site at Chambers Wharf for ‘Tideway’ (Once a giant cold store)
A new extension site into the Thames is clearly shown below Tower Bridge
‘The CASE of the Inhabitants of GREENWICH in the County of Kent, and Reasons why they ask Relief for Rebuilding their Parish-Church’, 1711
This week, St Alfege Church held a simple and moving re-enactment of a plea to Parliament of some 300 years ago to finance the reconstruction of their parish church having been destroyed in the Great Storm, and also for aid for some 2,000 seafarers who were shipwrecked in the naval disaster in the Isle of Scilly. Many were from Greenwich and Deptford Dockyard communities.
The fleet with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell on board came to grief on a reef and resulted in devastating loss of life. Subsequently, additional essential navigational aids were invented, such as the Harrison Clock (now on display in the National Maritime Museum). Trinity House, the navigational authority, was also founded 300 years ago, based close by in Deptford Strond.
The ceremony was held this week on St. Valentine’s Day in St. Alfege’s Church – the first church rebuilt by Hawksmoor and Sir Christopher Wren after the great Fire of London. This was a moving re-enactment, with the Church Wardens submitting their plea to civic and church leaders before a gathering of parish men. St Alfege also celebrated with the announcement of their successful lottery grant application, which will enable further essential refurbishment of this monumental landmark in Greenwich Town Centre.
Although best known locally as former MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, Nick Raynsford has had a long-term interest in photography, dating back to his time as a student at Chelsea School of Art in the late 1960s.
Now retired and living by the Thames at the Millennium Village, he has kept his eagle eye, not only on the tideway but during his travels.
Be sure to see ‘Nick Raynsford on Water’ at The Greenwich Gallery in Peyton Place just off Royal Hill in Greenwich. A crowded opening party last Thursday was overwhelming and more private view is recommended. All proceeds to the housing charity: Crisis.
A portfolio book is available at
The exhibition is open until February 18th.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9:30-17:30; Saturday and Sunday 12:00-16:00
Do go – you will be amazed at Nick’s creative talent!!
The Thames Tideway Project is going to bring new maritime activity into a long-defunct inland port which has been abandoned for many a year.
At the head of the Creek, ship building and fitting out of both naval and mercantile was extremely active since the Vikings and Tudor days. The cradle of the Navy – the East India Company Trinity House vessels were built and serviced here. Ship building and repair created opportunities undreamed of. The tidal miles-long creek was once abuzz with activity. Both road and rail connections enhanced its potential. It was along the Creek where London’s water and waste was controlled. Bazalgette’s great sewerage system for the capital was reliant on Creekside pumping stations to help effluent on its way to the Crossness Treatment plants where tankers (known as Bovril Boats) exported the waste to deep water disposal areas.
The extraordinary population growth of London and its suburbs now requires a major new civil engineering undertaking to cope with pumping and storage facilities. After extensive searches for suitable waterside sites, preliminary works are very much in hand and obvious to their neighbourhoods as jetties, pier heads and construction facilities gradually appear. The first giant boring machine has been delivered by river to Cremorne Wharf at Chelsea’s Lots Road. The size of the tunnel will be much wider than the recent Cross Rail works in order to facilitate transit and even storage on the move!!
For some twenty years or so we have endured a weekend treat as the Globe RC next door prepare their fragile craft for an early morning outing on the tideway, adjusting their blades as they board gingerly from the foreshore into the tidal Greenwich Reach of Father Thames. Soon they are a tiny speck out on the broad tideway which is bounded by enormous new structures on the Isle of Dogs and on Greenwich Peninsula.
Both Canary Wharf and down towards the O2, giant cranes lift building materials high onto the new, lofty structures which are forever growing, providing fast business in the financial sector in spite of Brexit fears!
Likewise, we are in need of an occasional outing away from my self-imposed studio commitments. A 50-minute trip down the M2 brings us to our ‘R & R’ retreat located on the broad, open estuarial reaches of the Thames at Faversham – a historic market town and ancient port. For some 50 years or so, we have retreated to a tiny ‘two-up two-down’, built for workers in the nearby gunpowder ‘field’ which supplied both the Army and Navy with the necessary – convenient for the 1918 trenches (lest we forget) and nearby Chatham Naval Base. They were reliant on local shipping for safe convenience. Local quays and wharves played an important role. Thus a regular inspection over the winter months is necessary to see how our end-of-terrace cottage is weathering the elements; also to clear away the excessive circulars which soon mount up over the quarterly bills which demand our instant attention.
One of our delights is to visit our favourite waterside pasta restaurant, delightfully sited in a provender mill with much Neapolitan charm and nosh. As we arrived we were greeted with extra broad smiles with the news that we were the first customers to experience their latest makeover: newly varnished, glossy wooden floors, new colour scheme and totally new tables, chairs and benches. Soon to be crowded with family birthday celebrations, we ordered our usual pasta vongole and reviewed the changing ambience. Shame the chef was still on Christmas leave!
Driving through an empty capital on Christmas Day was indeed a pleasure – hardly a soul about as we crossed the Thames at Tower Bridge, just a few tourists peering into an empty tideway. Then round along Lower Thames Street and even up into the Embankment and on into Trafalgar Square and the little Cockspur Street near Admiralty Arch with Lord Nelson still on guard. Here the great shipping companies once had their booking halls with absolutely splendid liner models – now all gone. A few of them are still displayed at the NMM here in Greenwich, but I bet there are many more stored away in their brand new reserve collection in Kidbrooke, well away from peering school boy eyes! The giant blue shed can be seen from the A102(M), and has no identification on it as yet!!
Back at sea: MV ‘Balmoral’ is a regular visitor in the Thames, as is also the paddle steamer ‘Waverley’ based on the Clyde which also visits London each summer. Another interesting summer visitor is the Princess Pocahontas from Gravesend, which does day trips. All three ships publish their summer programmes.
‘Balmoral’ is based in Bristol’s expansive Floating Dock, surrounded by craft and port features, and is a regular Kent attraction; for this last Boxing Day stroll, there was a welcoming, atmospheric Pump House Pub just by the lock gates which we both recommend. After splendid festivities, we chugged through the snow over the Marlborough Downs which looked spectacular. Again, almost traffic free, we headed into town via the Chelsea Embankment along the Thames to Battersea, where the great Power Station is in the midst of a significant redevelopment. A new ferry stop is planned under the giant coaling cranes (now being restored elsewhere).
At Nine Elms, the South Bank is introducing yet another landmark upstream from the giant Efra tower block with its company of apartment blocks abutting the MI5 HQ at Vauxhall. Constructed here is the extraordinary new US Embassy, overlooking the Thames and Westminster beyond, due to be opened by the President himself early in January. Here again, a strong statement of power and influence, creating yet another US-dominated neighbourhood after its 1960 HQ in Grosvenor Square. Its Mayfair presence influenced this part of town for many a year – and being relegated to Vauxhall is, indeed, a challenge: these old railway goods yards and giant cold stores were transformed by the quaint fruit, vegetable and flower market once in fashionable Covent Garden, now forced to relocate once more. The lesson given by the Normans to erect a giant, white fortification to dominate London’s unruly citizens has been taken on board yet again. This 12-storey fortified cube has its structure and façade well protected from a possible assailant. It even has a deep moat facing the Thames with defensive ditch all round to protect its Nine Elms access ‘lane’.
I remember how impressed I was when the Eero Saarinen design dominated Grosvenor Square back in 1960 included a vast, open lobby which had a series of water channels to keep the populace in order while seeking their visas. The lower exhibition areas were the basis of the new American Museum in Bath, which still displays the best of American colonial artefacts.
I was shocked as I sipped my morning coffee to see half of the Pier’s pontoon slide down on the ebb tide to Walsh’s mooring just off Ballast Quay. A pair of Paul Deverell’s tugs took control to edge her into their floating dock just downstream. The Port of London’s ‘Triton’ cranes had engineered the move from the pontoon’s usual moorings.
A pair of river services ‘Ambassadors’ were posted to control the restricted comings and goings of passengers onto the Thames Clipper ferry service up to town and the hardy tripper craft which run from the O2 up to town – also down to Woolwich at rush hour and upstream to Putney. Their comings and goings at the crack of dawn until late at night service the O2 (where a fascinating array of tennis players and entertainers keep their punters happy), and there’s a regular swish and swash as the passing clippers create a sea-like serenade by day and night, waves hitting the foreshore and immediate structures.
Meanwhile, reinforcement of the stone work embankment is being undertaken upstream just around the projecting bluff of the pier. Fine craftsmanship by the stonemasons is a joy to see, continuing the expert attentiveness of Greenwich Hospital to its waterfront cast iron railings, in spite of the ever-increasing pounding by the powerful clippers’ wash.
Down on the foreshore extra protection has been placed by netted containers of rocks to ease erosion of the historic embankment. The sandy mud has been washed away to expose the ancient wooden pilings which formed the Tudor staging where watermen of old delivered the great and the good to the Royal Court and the Greenwich Town market. Nowadays the DLR, buses, trains as well as ferries disgorge tourists who throng the market and shops.
One of the attractions is a continental-style, tented Christmas Market sited on the extensive paving that surrounds the Cutty Sark in its expensive glass enclosure, her rigging dressed overall in twinkling lights with a sparkling star at the top of the foremast.
Walking along the riverside path in front of the floodlit Old Royal Naval College is a foretaste of further illumination designed and planned for Thameside’s embankment and bridges early next year.
A brand new reception and pier is due to be opened soon for Woods Luxury Launches from their newly-aligned pier just opposite the Savoy Hotel, where a pair of stylish river cruisers will provide the great and the good with haute cuisine dining facilities in these luxurious vessels by day and by night. The ever-changing startling architecture of riverside developments not only up in town but both up and downstream provide a really remarkable experience not only for Londoners but visitors alike.
London’s string of pearls of historic and new structures will amaze, and are a must for next year’s visitors too!