Those few days that seem to last for ever after the hype of Christmas and the New Year – a period marked by lethargy, inactivity and/or indolence, teetering on the brink of torpor of the tropics!! Get stirring, Kent!! However, just the occasional tripper boat hoots its way to and from Greenwich Pier; the occasional forlorn sculler keeps a wary eye out for the odd incoming luxury launch. Slick streamlining defines its purpose inbound from the Solent for a few days’ jolly up at St. Katherines Haven by the Tower prior to reporting for duty at the Boat Show held annually at Excel in early January. Memories of the Earls Court Boat Show with flowing Guiness and shell fish consumed in quantity by hearty yachties greeting their chums in these hallowed halls.
Meanwhile the working fleets of lighters are towed through the capital which still requires their constant care, removing the seasonal excess to landfill and process plants towards the estuary. As ever, lofty cranes perched high above massive building sites await the labour force to return from their new year breaks, scattered around their Brexit-land family homes, returning in trepidation of whatever their politicians thrash out.
Welcome callers include the maritime academic Brian Lavery from his new Sussex home – which reminds me of a New Year resolution to illustrate the King’s Yard at Deptford as viewed from John Evelyn’s house and estate. His enthusiasm has fired me up to prepare some sketches based on his research while here at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Believe it or not, I have a distant aspect upstream of the shipyard from my studio window which, once known as Convoys Newsprint Wharf, is due for a massive redevelopment, so I ought to look lively before the ‘Olympia’ ship building sheds disappear from view.
New Year burst in with asunder as the first of the thousands of fireworks crash and roar through the skyways over the capital and its new, high rise structures. Even from our own deck, where a generous guest lashed out on a major rocket soaring high above, scaring the living daylights out of the seagull population climbing for safety, their white silhouettes formed by a snooping micro light relaying our special air space to one and all of the revellers on terra firma.
It is very fitting to summarise this last year on the Tideway as one of the busiest.
The Port of London has come second in the UK’s register – remember that this year the upper reaches have been revitalised by massive new infrastructure – London Tideway super sewer has demanded new tugs and barges to handle the tunnelling spoil and supply steel work to construct new structures into the tidal Thames – introducing new plant into the ‘bridgeheads’ of the numerous tunnels which are coming on at a pace.
Downstream new wharves and terminals are springing into action to handle, not only the global container trade, but also bulks and liquids into new storage and distribution facilities up and down the Essex and Kent shores. New cross river transport links are planned downstream from Gravesend and Tilbury – new ferries and ramps for the Woolwich Ferry and even a road link from Greenwich Peninsula across to the Royal – something desperately needs to happen as existing infrastructure grinds to a halt – it took Judy and me three and a half hours to travel by bus from London Bridge to Canada Water then on to our house in East Greenwich – which is becoming ever more congested as massive housing schemes plus a huge new IKEA store opens in the new year.
Both banks of the tideway and all of Canada Wharf and the Royals are groaning under over development fostered by the new through trains and the promise of a DLR extension into Barking including new maritime facilities by the ever-growing Thames Clipper Fleet.
Meanwhile the Greenwich riverside embankment had to be reinforced in front of the ORNC and along the historic frontage of Trinity Hospital.
Dare we say it but we breathed a sigh of relief as our small Thameside decking received a clear bill of health in spite of the speedy Thames clippers pounding past early morning to late night.
A very exciting jolly on board Livetts ‘Elizabethan’ was splendid as we motored upstream from Tower Bridge to Battersea and back giving us a wonderful sunny cruise along the redeveloped South Bank with its new US Embassy and the massive construction around Battersea Power Station. Through the years we have regularly cruised in comfort on the stern wheeler with excellent catering from a Greenwich kitchen. She has been in the fleet for many years upgraded with style – we even held Ben and Venetia’s wedding reception on board. She was built originally for Branson at an East Greenwich yard and has had loving care throughout the years!!
A regular visitor to the Thames was anticipated by my photographer friend based in Gravesend – he came up to town and climbed the lofty Monument in order to capture ‘Brasil’ as she negotiated through Tower Bridge. Rob Powell shares my enthusiasm for the Thames and showed me his published work in Warships International Fleet Review. With great delight, I spotted the lofty construction of the Tideway giant shed over the tunnel bore at Bermondsey’s Chambers Wharf which is designed to shelter the tunnelling team building London’s super sewer. By chance I met one of the engineers at the site just a week ago who explained that local residents need sound protection over a lengthy period.
Memories of the Brunel Thames Tunnel exhibition which I helped set up – provides a fascinating insight into tunnel making which is relevant again!
Again by chance, I took advantage of the fine weather in early November to return to my favourite riverside hamlet – Rotherhithe – to savour its delights and to take coffee in its church side park.
I heard through the grapevine that Rotherhithe’s historic riverfront is to be featured in a ‘flood’ lighting bonanza – highlighting Mayflower 400 celebrations in Rotherhithe 2020
(There is a crowdfunding campaign running in Rotherhithe, to acknowledge and commemorate Rotherhithe’s key role in the Mayflower story.)
I wonder if it is the same “Mayflower” project that I spotted in a shipyard in the Port of Harwich station yard where the Rail Ferry to Belgium used to run. Nowadays Trinity house, the lighthouse and navigational folk have a brand-new wharf and depot operating from part of the ex-ferry site.
Likewise, here in Greenwich contractors have closed the Thames Path in order to renovate an historic river wall at Greenwich’s Trinity Hospital – no doubt we are in for an early morning reveille.
River walkers do not despair as another section of the Thames Path will be closed to the public in front of the historic Trinity Hospital while remedial repair takes place on the ancient river wall.
The diversion around the block reveals some fascinating properties to the observant walker along Eastney Street, Old Woolwich Road and Trenchard Street where a ‘hidden’ estate built in the arts and crafts style once housed Naval college staff. The meridian Primary School is a classic London School Board development – note its curious style and new playground once the Globe Rowing Boat House – which is now nearer the river in Eastney Street.
The newish Trinity Pensioners Home sited in their extensive garden is overlooked by the monstrous concrete coal store and the twin generating halls owned by London Transport which is a back up system with jet engines supplying almost instant power. Originally a smaller coal powered unit supplied power for the tram and trolley busses. The massive pier once had a pair of cranes to off load coals from Newcastle – and still remains as a reminder of the past. The path returns along the side of the lofty brick wall to the river front leading onto the historic Ballast Quay.
A new attraction is a splendid Turkish Café / Restaurant sited on the terraced forecourt – making an excellent comfort stop for one and all – their coffee is delicious as is their Turkish fare. Let’s hope the footfall is not damaged by these essential works – well worth investigating !!
Across the nation the 100th anniversary of the armistice which ended the Great World War is remembered throughout our communities, large and small – especially so locally where troops and munition works were based in SE London – and where young men flocked to join up.
Nowadays it is mostly the old that gather at various ceremonies throughout the Borough. At the Pleasance in East Greenwich, where the overflow were transferred to from their original graves at the Naval College – a gathering of civil dignitaries met in the corner of this vast burial ground in the late summer sun. Children and parents also use this open ground, and could be heard. Their play and laughter were in deep contrast to the solemn ceremony. The Salvation Army band bravely led the hymns and prayers in company with the great and good gathered in the warm sunshine. Similar occasions will happen throughout the UK and the Common Market in these autumn months.
In a recent break in Norfolk we were reminded of the great loss to the agriculture and fishing industries – each community being reminded by the plethora of monuments and crosses. We visited Burnham Thorpe, the birth place of Lord Nelson, where in the fine parish church two large white battle ensigns reminded us of the Battle of Jutland and, of course, Trafalgar.
From my studio window I can see that the landlord of the Trafalgar Tavern has managed to obtain a unique ensign which is streaming bravely in the strong northerlies. I can also see the brilliant sunlit Royal Naval College – the venue for many Naval celebrations at which I have donned my dinner jacket and red poppy in remembrance. These traditional great occasions are in contrast to some of the more humble naval occasions such as a remarkable Art Trail in Canary Wharf – bravo one and all.
A brand new booklet is being produced by Rob Powell which will contain the Old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich’s Roll of Honour from WW1.
About 1900 names of the fallen are included in the list which is being published for the first time – a fine way to remember!! Rob is speaking to the Greenwich Historical Society on November 28th and will present his new photographic images of relevant memorials as well – be sure to be there at James Wolfe School in Royal Hill, Greenwich at 7.15 for 7.30pm
After a very close inspection of The Painted Hall ceiling, one recalls significant celebrations in The Painted Hall at Greenwich, when the Royal Navy lowered the White Ensign for the last time. A full banqueting Hall, packed to the gunnels with the good and the great, bade farewell to The Royal Naval College for ever.
A tearful ceremony was enhanced by the Royal Marines’ Band echoing around the Great Hall and, finally, the lowering of the White Ensign in the Grand Square. Each guest had received a rolled up print bound by a sailor’s hat ribbon – some 400 in number (I know because I created the drawing and signed every one!!).
Three years before this, a similar event was celebrated by the Friends of the National Maritime Museum in the great riverside room at the Trafalgar Tavern, the ‘immortal memory’ toasted by Rear Admiral Richard Hill RN Retd., who thanked Judy and me for our overnight hospitality with a copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, just published by Oxford and edited by himself – a noted naval historian.
Other memorable Trafalgar Days were celebrated in Boston Mass. USA, when a party of Friends of the National Maritime Museum were shown the ropes of the USS Constitution ‘Old Ironsides’. Her captain gave a cracking toast to Admiral Lord Nelson for the gathered company. A similar group (organised by Brian Lavery, a NMM historian recently retired to the Sussex vineyards) were shown over the historic naval dockyard at Portsmouth by one of the divers who discovered the wreck of King Henry VIII’s warship ‘Mary Rose’ 457 years after she sank off Southsea Castle in the Solent after action with a French fleet. A personal tour in my wheelchair will never be forgotten.
Another never-forgotten ceremony was a reenactment at the Old Royal Naval College of John Richard Lapenotiere delivering news of the famous Trafalgar victory to the steps of the Old Royal Naval College Chapel by post-chaise from Falmouth. This was followed by the reenactment of events from those same steps where the body, encased in rum, was delivered prior to a ceremonial flotilla up the Thames to HQS Wellington, then processing under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Alan Avest, to lie in state at St. Paul’s.
The farewell service in Westminster Abbey and the flotilla return voyage down to Greenwich Pier with a civic welcome was the first of many great happenings in Greenwich, with great musical events in our landmark churches and halls. Bravo!!
Are we losing the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding?
As I write, the ever-recognisable noise of paddle wheels echo around the sunset as the Clyde steamer ‘Waverley’ heads upstream after a day out in the estuary, passing Royal Greenwich in great style! (signs of another teardrop too!!)
However, the rumour that the powers-that-be are abandoning the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding from their marketing is somewhat disturbing – another ‘Brexit’!! The proposal is to replace this with the branding: ‘The Royal Palace and Greenwich Hospital’. Remember that the present Old Royal Naval College is a comparatively recent institution – it moved here from Portsmouth in 1873. But the buildings remain that occupied the ruins of one of the most historic of English palaces and the best-known of Tudor courts – the Palace of Placentia (of which very little remains). Sadly, there is only the so-called Tudor Undercroft left to tell us of its greatness (see ‘Royal Greenwich’ by Olive and Nigel Hamilton).
Be reassured that Frank Dowling has opened his refurbished Trafalgar Tavern where the greatest show of Thameside maritime paintings abound – a great celebration open for all to see and toast ‘the immortal memory’ of Admiral Lord Nelson on October 21st.
Greenwich is also a hub of Nelson memorabilia, what with the NMM and Warwick Leadlay’s collections at their market-side gallery. Frank Dowling of the Trafalgar Tavern – an American with a love for Greenwich and, of course, Lord Nelson, will demonstrate his newly-arranged collection of paintings in his magnificent newly-restored riverside tavern, upon which he surely must be congratulated. I am sure visitors will love to visit this much-enhanced attraction, especially as the Naval emphasis of the Old Royal Naval College is being steered away by other attractions in need of more obvious income generators from Joe Tourist.
I can well remember the government enquiries into the proposed departure of the Royal Navy from this hallowed site, when both the NMM and University of Greenwich gave evidence at the formal presentation. As a neighbour, we were invited to attend after discussion with the Commanders, one by one. The added attraction of Trinity College of Music moving from Marylebone, Central London, into the original Palace block was pure genius as its benefits have been applauded ever since.
I was saddened to see ‘another piece of history’ reporting the sad loss to the maritime scene on Deptford Creek. ‘The Greenwich Visitor’ often reports on Thameside matters and recorded the fiery death of the last of the working cranes once gathered on both sides of the Creek and nearby Thameside.
I write from Crane Street, named after the nearby site of a Tudor crane that served the Palace of Placentia and later the import of stone for the construction of Wren’s masterpiece. Of course, ship building which abounded hereabouts required machinery to hoist masts and rigging and to export goods around the world.
Priors Brewery Wharf is the last of the working wharves and a pair of coasters still plies to and from Denton in Kent with freshly dredged aggregates for the busy concrete making plant. A mobile crane has now been allocated to do the job by day and by night, according to tides.