Over 20 years or so I have been privileged to have had splendid views from my drawing board over the Greenwich Tier ship buoys at the entrance of Deptford Creek and onto Father Thames with Deptford Royal Dockyard beyond awaiting redevelopment on a massive scale for even more high rise residential development. Convoys Wharf was once a very busy newsprint import wharf serving the Fleet Street printing presses. It was a joy then to see large white Ro-Ro ships arriving from Scandinavia and Russia. Now this trade is run from down-river wharves at Tilbury, Gravesend and Chatham. Across the river on the Isle of Dogs rolled steel from the Ruhr once arrived regularly on purpose-built vessels. Now new housing dominates the scene.
My pen is now poised to illustrate the renowned Royal Dockyard at Deptford which was, indeed, the cradle of the Navy under the guidance of Brian Lavery – a renowned maritime historian and author who shares my enthusiasms. This summer Brian guided a small party of fellow enthusiasts for a 4-day visit around Portsmouth. Based at the heart of Portsmouth, a significant redevelopment brings new life to a fabulous collection of historic ships set in Gunwharf Quays just at the entrance to the extensive Royal Dockyards. We enjoyed stunning views of the Solent, the City and much marine
activity. The soaring Spinnaker Tower is at the hub of bustling activity in a shopping centre, restaurants, bars and the like – ferries buzzing to and from the Isle of Wight and the Continent.
From the penthouse HQ and on board historic ships Brian guided us through the centuries in his repertoire – Henry VIII’s Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the RN’s first submarine.
Meanwhile Jonathan Winter and wife from Oxford sailed out on a circumnavigation voyage around the UK reporting with witty post cards from time to time. A 12-port schedule is planned with regular reporting back. Their enthusiasm is infectious! See http://www.12ports.com. I wonder if they sighted the pair of new aircraft carriers which are undergoing sea trials and also collection of their 60 F35B fighters from the USA.
PC from Islay, west of Scotland, from brave couple sailing around the UK and Ireland. Enjoyed receiving voyage details (I supplied scamp sketch maps for rendezvous at various ports and marinas – one way of sharing the voyage!)
Being an Essex lad, the junction of rivers into the sea have always fascinated. Maldon in Essex, like Faversham in Kent, has been the been the birthplace of Thames Sailing Barges. These spritsail barges are more than suitable for carrying goods up creeks and then under bridges to upstream mills and wharves.
Living alongside a Greenwich wharf makes barge spotting on their way to and from the capital almost a daily custom. My home town at Colchester had the Hythe – a busy Roman sea port – which had always fascinated me (a short cycle ride from my town centre home). Likewise Anne Christopherson was able to pedal through Greenwich down to the Thames wharves which she adored, and I have just been given a depiction of Pipers Wharf which I will treasure.
A weekend stay with ex-neighbour Sara Thorling and family friend down at Seasalter gave us a splendid viewing of the Swale and Sheppey with the Thames running up towards the capital, Southend and the Essex coast and the ever-expanding container port of London beyond – just where Mayor Boris was intent on building the airport of his dreams. (No man is an island!!)
A further visit this week to Maldon with a coach party from Greenwich may well give me a firstsighting of a newly-completed sprit sail barge built there for youth training.
As I write, the cruise ship ‘Silver Wind’ slips past Greenwich on her way up to HMS Belfast in the Pool of London – a regular port of call for ships in the Summer.
Likewise, the ‘World’ came to Greenwich Ship Tier, a residential ship for the super-rich. Cutty Sark Gardens became a cosmopolitan eating house for visitors to Maritime Greenwich – stalls for those who prefer not to eat in our town centre eating houses!
Across the river, the Isle of Dogs is sprouting skyscrapers as investors flock to London prior to Brexit. Canary Wharf and the Square Mile compete with each other for punters with cash to spare.
When we first came to Greenwich some 50 years ago, our view across the marshes were full of empty docklands as containerisation was not welcome here. By chance my sketch of the Greenwich Peninsula was the site of the first container wharf – although there wasn’t adequate space to store the land-hungry boxes.
Part of the site contains Deverells Shipyard, its floating dock serving the ever-growing demand for maintenance of the ever-increasing fleets of tourist boats that now throng central London. Victoria Deep Water Wharf became an aggregate hub for all the massive development sites and, as I write, a new hub is under construction to advance this facility.
Beyond lies the great whale washed ashore, serving as a music hub: the O2 deserves a second look as a retail hub on a mezzanine floor wraps around the hole in the dome which lets out the foul air of the Blackwall Tunnel!
I spotted the steam tug Portwey undergoing work on her historic hull. She can still be seen under steam on her brief outings on the tideway – she sits on a pontoon in the Royal Docks awaiting a permanent home.
I must thank Rob Powell for his colour photos extracted from the splendid calendar which he publishes every year. He must have been very vigilant to see Portwey at Tower Bridge and there’s a grand shot from the Wolfe statue in Greenwich Park of the ‘Silversea’ cruise ship showing the Canary Wharf and developments in construction beyond.
A brief message to those on board the Yacht ‘Nova’, half way around the UK – BRAVO!! It seems a long way from Oxford and St. Katharine’s
Still time to catch a workshop or two…
It’s good to take a break by the seaside – especially in Roseland – a remote peninsula in South Cornwall. Fortunately we are staying in a charming cottage overlooking a creek, part of Carrick Roads – Falmouth’s ‘extensive’ harbour which is reached by a 3-mile ferry ride from St Mawes..
It’s always fascinating to see so much marine activity around this once-famous deep water port – the furthest west, also the first and last of many a voyage where all-important mails were exchanged. The extensive shipbuilding and repair yards are still very active. We explored the River Fal up towards Truro on another small, historic ferry up the Carrick Roads, passing anchorages for large ships and the departure point for the D-Day American landing craft, with its narrow lanes and peaceful creeks. The iconic King Harry Ferry, one of the few chain ferries in England, provides a short cut of 27 miles for visitors and locals alike (cars and vans too).
Our 4-hour train journey from Paddington raced through lush river valleys at an amazing pace. I should have brought a map with me to explain some of the landmarks, among which were the extraordinary Brunel bridges over the Thames and at Saltash overlooking Plymouth Naval Base and the River Tamar (the Devon/Cornwall county boundary) as we charged through undulating landscape and past beautiful water ways, following gradual gradients with only the occasional tunnel.
Our speedy Great Western train, with brand new rolling stock, lapped up the miles in great comfort. We were met at Truro and driven to the King Harry chain-driven ferry on to Roseland – a remarkable rural peninsula with beautiful creeks and harbours. Our week-long break hadn’t the best of weather, being early in the season; but we were fortunate to see the traditional start-of-season sail past by a variety of sailing craft from the numerous harbours and marinas just before the rain storms returned. One is struck by the full moorings and the variety of craft in this delightful part of the world.
Back to the realities of life with a day at Lewisham Hospital for a clinic involving long waiting in the delightful new riverside reception with views of the River Ravensbourne and park beyond. Ducks, moorhens and even an egret flutter about as the fast-flowing stream heads for Lewisham, Deptford and the Thames beyond – all aboard!!
This year’s Marathon was another spectator event for us Greenwich folk, as the 49,000 runners stormed down the hill from the heights of Blackheath starting points towards the riverside flatter grounds, where the oncoming streams of starters blended into one constant flow of competitors. This time, I remained glued to the TV coverage as helicopter cameramen twisted and turned to gain maximum coverage, zooming into the complexity of streets, avenues, promenades et al, revealing surprising new viewpoints to our familiar, local neighbourhoods as runners and spectators gave their all.
Before you could say Jack Robinson, the barriers and signage were whipped away into the waiting trucks as the last, exhausted runner passed by. All the rubbish and abandoned clothing were whipped away to reveal the glory of the fresh green that Spring has so generously provided, just in time.
The next day being a Monday, the Thames was back at work with fleets of tug-drawn lighters removing the capital’s contaminated garbage and extra large barges conveying the spoil from the many tunneling working wharves of the super sewer, as well as the constant supplies of engineering items being delivered just in time.
It was a sudden shock to view the glamorous outgoing French cruise ship ‘Le Champlain’ passing by. Her most unusual profile was almost identical to the O2 dome – perhaps containing many an exhausted marathon runner? Also a pair of yankee yachts slipping down the tideway with stars and stripes stretched out in the chilly breeze.
Reports from Ramsgate on Jonathan Winter’s progress on his circumnavigation of the UK – he expects to be passing by my studio this week – that is if Storm Hannah has blown herself out!
Yacht Nova arrived in London and, after her lengthy passage up the Thames, moored in historic St. Katharine’s Dock which was full of posh motor cruisers and similar craft, as well as four majestic Thames Sailing Barges (which are available for charter).
The harbour Master allocated her a prime position in the crowded haven – a complete contrast to the isolated anchorages where she will seek shelter on her planned circumnavigation of the UK.
We welcomed them to our riverside house in Greenwich where we shared some local info about commercial and leisure activities on our busy tideway which ‘Riverwatch’ usually features.
The second section of her voyage will be up the East Coast calling at Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey (a favourite mooring for incoming and outgoing yachts) then up the coast, passing Harwich and Felixstowe, both gateways to UK trade, then up the River Orwell to Ipswich where she was built. On her voyage north she will overnight at Hull where a suitable marina will provide creature comforts. Then on to Whitby, a complete contrast and one of my favourites. This will set the tone for her future endeavours as per Captain Cook.
It was a joy to see such an unusual ship moored at Greenwich Ship Tier – a large, bright yellow merchant ship registered in Hull, once renowned for its whaling fleet and also where the well-known Greenwich fleet was re-established at Grimsby with its rapid rail connections with the capital.
The Princess Royal was ferried in by helicopter to perform the naming ceremony. ‘Kirkella’ is a maritime community close to the Humber Bridge. Princess Anne has many maritime connections and honours, including being Master of Trinity House. This was an unusual occasion, a large deep-sea trawler introduced to the trade, and tourists visiting maritime Greenwich were treated to a free portion of fish and chips where the famous riverside once stood, on the site of the Cutty Sark’s dock and pier.
Jonathan Winter’s Spring Cruise in his brand new ‘Nova’ – a new type of British-designed ocean cruising yacht – sound intriguing, as his intended voyage circumnavigating the British island. Setting off from Buckler’s Hard in Hampshire, he proposes to visit 12 key ports around the UK, covering some 2,500 miles. He is trawling around for essays, articles, blogs and podcasts.
Enthused by this endeavour, I drew up 12 sketch maps to show his intended passage which would help his followers keep tabs on his dozen ports of call. He sets out on 20th April from Buckler’s Hard, close to Southampton and the Solent. Yacht ‘Nova’ will head up channel through the crowded shipping lanes into the Thames and through into London on May Day – tides and wind permitting.
I found preparing these simple, coloured sketch maps most stimulating. I handed them over and hope they will be useful for anyone wishing to follow his enterprise.
Visiting craft from overseas have suddenly created much more activity along Father Thames last weekend. A tall ship from Poland, a Dutch beflagged mine sweeper, a trim new tug dressed overall added even more colour to the ever-increasing fleet of working barges. Activity of engineering craft doubles, engaged on the workings of the super sewer, which are being sound-proofed for the 24-hour working with new roofs and walls. These are enclosing the ever-increasing activity as the bore holes extend into the massive tunnelling as the extraordinary extends into a warren of lateral workings following beneath the tidal river. The capital explodes in construction of both residential and commercial projects in spite of challenging weather conditions.
Even more brightly painted plant and cranes provide a jolly spectacle for us riverside residents. They ply with the essential power of the tides along the 30-mile long, underground construction site, popping up like moles distributing the spoil along the proposed route down stream. Each major operator is defined in strong, corporate colour schemes.
Meanwhile in cultural Greenwich, revised corporate identities proclaim the Painted Hall’s more subtle rebranding which also hosted a dinner for the Polish tall ship crews.
More tunnelling under tidal Thames between Tilbury and Gravesend to create a new super port in Essex.
Farewell Peter Warwick (far right)
An upright gentleman of the river traditions slipped away after a long illness. One of the organisers of the ‘Great River Race’, ‘Thames Alive’ and ‘The New Trafalgar Dispatch’ which was a re-enactment of the drama of Nelson’s final departure from the Royal Steps at the Royal Naval College by river to St. Paul’s. Peter Warwick organised similar historical enactments to celebrate Wellington and Waterloo – another of Peter’s heroes. He was chairman of the 1865 Club. His great enthusiasm will be much missed.
I don’t think river folk realise how vast is the area of the O2 canopy, especially as a large segment of the upper levels have become a fashionable shopping venue (to compete with the likes of Blue Water and the Stratford Centre). For years after the Millennium, the O2 was a venue for international musical festivals and sporting events which somehow or other featured on television channels. Its vastness has now become even more apparent as one is able to be escalated into the upper heights to reveal the secrets of the giant yellow tent poles and areas never seen until now by the public, such as the giant ventilation hole which hopefully elevates the Blackwall tunnel traffic fumes up and away through the double layered canopy.
It’s well worth exploring this stylish, circular shaped mall which is full of international traders who have opened up, away from Knightsbridge and the other fashionable retail venues. Attractive discounts will bring shoppers via the speedy Jubilee Line and DLR, but alas not for the cruise ship brigade which was planned for the Greenwich Cruise Ship terminal a little further upstream. (This has been turned down by the planners.)
A good day to visit the O2 complex would be Sunday 19th May, when the annual Urban Village Fete brings a multitude of festivities which we have enjoyed over the past few years, held close to the North Greenwich Interchange. The proposed Design Complex is now under construction next to the successful Steve Parle’s Craft restaurant where I take coffee, which will thrive all the better with a multitude of design folk on their doorstep upon completion in 2 years’ time.
While down that way, pop into IKEA’s new flagship store.