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The Thames springs to life again

The first flotilla of yachts inbound head upstream after the completion of the shutdown, heading for   Central London marinas.  Oh yes, our loved riversides are open again.  The Kents celebrated by lunching at Frank Dowling’s Trafalgar Tavern, watching waves pushing the tide up.  What a treasure house of maritime art surrounds us as we admire his lush dining rooms.  Riverside views and through to spanking new kitchens with chefs back at work!!  Frank – a New Yorker – fell in love with Greenwich while working over in Canary Wharf constructing two skyscrapers.  He decided to persue further enterprises over here with great imagination.  The narrow Crane Street entrance gives you a hint of what’s to be seen throughout his refurbished landmark, and a hint of further development here abouts.

Life certainly has returned to the leisure industry as tripper boats return.  The newly rebranded City Cruises bring tourists back into Greenwich, while the speedy fast ferries have extended their routes both up and downstream through the Barrier and up to Battersea, also with a rebranded fleet of Uber Boats – aka Thames Clippers – all repainted in sharp new black and white, each identified with a different coloured flash on the bow.

Likewise rebranding is to be found in the freight trade, with strong fleet colour identification – even the rubbish lighter containers have been spruced up, as well as the water bowser and buck minerals lighters and bright orange tugs, the bright yellow giant crane barge from Holland and a foreign inbound coaster on a repeat visit from the continent.

Also Livetts Launches, with their luxurious paddle steamers and fashionable traditional launches have diversified beyond guest care into the provision of film and television support craft, and knowhow to supply the most sophisticated requirements.  And many traditional boatmen have also diversified into supplying tugs, lighters and cranes to the civil engineers working on the new rail extension and the ever-demanding super sewer tunnelling and disposing spoil up and down the river and out into the estuary and beyond.  Much for Riverwatch to report!!  Your splendid tideway awaits!!!

A busy rowing season approaches

The Thames Path curls its way round the back of the Trafalgar Tavern, the Yacht Pub and past the Trafalgar Rowing Centre which houses both the Curlew and  Globe rowing Clubs, past our house and across the watergate which gives access to the tideway from the Curlew Rowing Club with its large boat store and first floor gym.

During the recent shut-down, the club premises have been closed but will be reopening as promised.  Often crowded with runners, walkers, tourists and cyclists, with rowers gaining access to the sandy, firm foreshore, the Thames path has often become very crowded!!  The launching area on the foreshore slopes gradually to the tideway providing a firm foothold for the crews.  On weekdays regular outings take place for all the various craft from length ‘eight’ to solo.  The passing tourist is sometimes shocked to find the footway crammed with sportsmen, and making exit down our front doorsteps slightly hazardous for us oldies; care is required by one and all.

The quaint, terraced passageway is very humble compared to the grandeur of Wren’s Greenwich Hospital with its narrow, railed path and formal steps giving access to the ‘beach’ – very slippery when weed is at its full growth.  In the ‘Navy Days’, formal salutes were exchanged from ship to shore, and sometimes this continues by the uninformed!  My son rows with The Curlew on the tideway and occasionally in the Royal Docks adjacent to City Airport’s runway which have recently been far from busy.  Whilst providing stretches of water for interclub events, it can be very smelly with jet fumes when fully operational.  Now that Covid restrictions are changing, we hope to welcome our son’s fellow rowers and their  worldwide clubs.

The Royal Hospital School

The Royal Hospital Foundation for seamen was established by William and Mary in 1694. The Royal
Hospital School founded in 1712 has made a significant contribution to the Royal and Merchant
Navies. Until 1933 the School was housed where the National Maritime Museum is sited now. Part
of the hands-on education were replicas of fully rigged ships located just in front of the Queen’s
House, in which senior boys lived (as illustrated). The School was moved to Holbrook in Suffolk in
1933 and still provides all-round education for boys and girls.

I have just heard the sad news of the death of Baron Greenwich – a gentleman who was a trainee
officer here at the Royal Naval College and also enjoyed the majesty of the grand architecture and
splendid ceremonial occasions in which he so often took a leading role.

He also enjoyed the simpler
facilities of the humble Yacht pub next door in Crane Street, known as ‘the wardroom’, which
became his watering hole in contrast to the Painted Hall. His affection and support of maritime
matters included the Royal Thames and its historic ceremonies in which he relished playing a role.
Royal Greenwich will surely miss his enthusiastic support of the NMM and as Master of Trinity House
and its traditions. Farewell Lord High Admiral.

A suitable statue placed in front of the Queens House
would be welcome as a reminder of this extraordinary world leader!

The cosy ‘Yacht’ was fully panelled and had a wardroom atmosphere where chaps could relax from
their studies.

Get lit up in Rotherhithe

A welcome bit of news is today’s official return of the fast river ferries renewing their speedy service after the shutdown of the craft which ply from Battersea downstream to Woolwich with intermediate rush hour commuter service.  Their presence has been sorely missed!!  Let’s hope that this welcome return won’t be closed down – if only for economic reasons, the Thames needs to be busy!!

Living alongside the River Thames usually gives on a grandstand view of spring activities along the waterfront.  This year fewer and fewer events to report, however we did see the return of the annual Naval visit of a pair of patrol boats as they motored up into the capital.  These traditional craft are utilised by sea cadet crews and are welcome back in our tideway to show the flag again.  The white ensign has been missed by us Thamesiders too!  The cadets would have been given a wonderful panoramic view of the Pool of London as well as Greenwich Reach and Canary Wharf, passing Deptford and Rotherhithe where a pair of French designed sail boats were in training with youngsters who learn basic seamanship under the instruction of skilled watermen.  A fine sight to see as they tacked up and down on an unusually quiet waterway.

As well as Deptford, Rotherhithe is a base for training craft and a venue for other maritime events such as the recent Mayflower celebrations which marked the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ great venture, as previously reported in Riverwatch.  This historical riverside settlement is full of maritime buildings and structures as illustrated in the accompanying handsome photos.  It is easy to get to by London Transport via Brunel’s first subaqueous rail tunnel – Rotherhithe Station has a fascinating museum alongside which is well worth a visit.  I was privileged to help in the design and first installation under Nick de Salis’ guidance and enthusiasm some 30 years or so ago!!  (Thank you Rotherhithe and Exhibition organisers!).  This year I hope for the return of the ‘Thames Alive’ celebratory cruise up to Rotherhithe from the Houses of Parliament, which was played out last year in spite of river closure. 

This time we hope to celebrate the flood lighting of Rotherhithe’s Village central landmark, as beautifully photographed for the Thames Guardian last year – well worth a pleasant river walk which will be a must – more news anon.

Last year I devised a riverbus trip up-river to coincide with the parliamentary outing to Rotherhithe, which also introduced me to Battersea Power Station Pier for the first time!  By luck more than judgement, my passage both up and down coincided with the ceremonial events. 

Today Judy and I invited our ‘editorial board’ to a small get-together out on our deck as this brief spell of spring needs to be remembered.  Both Tony and Helen Othen agreed readily to a light lunch on our deck just in time to see the top of the tide!  Hurrah!!

News about the Greenwich Tier Buoys

The sun sinks behind the twin domes of the ORNC, highlighting a brace of bare trees awaiting the oncoming Spring.  The brilliant sky, now bereft of morning fog, glimmers across the full tide just on the turn.  The vast, empty tideway curls around the Canary Wharf sky scrapers, all awaiting the Chancellor’s budget as the nation reassesses the pickle we are in, the press and telly full of forecasts while the serene Thames circumnavigates the Isle of Dogs in silence – except for the passage of a pair of tugs hauling the City’s waste paperwork down to the downstream terminals.  Joining the momentum, another bright yellow ‘tuglet’ hauls a vast, empty lighter.

The view upstream to Deptford Creek has had its annual refurb of its six buoys where super-liners and aircraft carriers used to move.  ‘London Titan’, now replacing ‘Crossness’, the PLA’s purpose-built mooring tender, has done its annual refit.  A hidden Creek waterway is now missing its prior coaster which used to deliver a daily supply of Essex bright sand from Fingrehoe’s waterside port – their comings and goings sadly missed – although a tug-led lighter squeezes its way up to Norman Road’s new Creekside wharf handling spoil and building materials from the vast east-west super sewer enterprise.

The unusual tidal calm allows space for the local duck and gulls to do their courting as dawn breaks across the expanse of waterway bereft of its historical shipping of old.  It seems ages since the luxury Viking cruise ships, tripper boats and elegant tall ships hit town, crowding our splendid landmarks and piers.

More to report, and thanks for many kind comments to the return of Riverwatch after my broken back incident.

A big thank you to all – Riverwatch returns

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.

First Riverwatch of the Year

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
unexpected thrill.
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.

Ahoy – 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

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.

Maritime Greenwich

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.