River Watch across the tideway



panorama 3dMy panoramic riverside view is changing rapidly as the Canary Wharf skyline of 14 lofty skyscraper buildings compete for dominance, as well as neighbouring cross river development and on the Greenwich Peninsula, joining the competition.

trafalgar tavern001Almost next door at the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich, a major redevelopment of the longest riverside bar has been enhanced by a wonderful collection of maritime paintings and artifacts.  Frank Dowling’s unique collection is there for all to see, set in this unique, historic tavern where a multitude of beers, wines and spirits are served with panache.  Traditional whitebait dinners and gourmet foods are also on offer in these wonderful riverside saloons.

This popular establishment is not only for dining, but is a remarkable wedding reception venue, whose impressive riverside reception rooms have a unique style fit for the grandest of occasions, many of which are recorded in paintings and drawings on display.

Further down Crane Street, the Yacht is a less historic and grandiose affair, but also enjoys fine river views from their restaurant.

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Immediately next door is the club house for the Globe and Curlew Rowing Clubs which have excellent facilities too for a riverside function.  This week we enjoyed an evening there featuring the Watermen’s Doggett Coat and Badge Race – an annual rowing event held since 1715 (said to be the oldest and longest rowing competition in the world) for apprentices between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier in Chelsea.  Six Waterboatmen – members of the Watermen’s Company – race with the tide for 5 miles.  The prize is the scarlet livery of the Company itself together with a large, silver badge which is worn on the upper sleeve.  Alas, skilled oarsmen are not easily found now days among apprentices

Watching the river in January

On the first really cold January evening I spotted a flotilla of canoes hugging the far shore identified only by flickering navigational lights with the mass of Manhattan-style skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.  Hardy sportsmen can be seen out on the Thames tideway gliding up with the tide, their instructors herding them along just like sheep.  My son Ben – a member of the Curlew Club – rows on the bleak Royal Docks on Saturday mornings where once his uncle John – a mate with Royal Mail Line ship Loch Ryan – unloaded frozen meat from Buenos Aires!!  (As I write, a telephone flood warning warns of an extra high tide!)

Earlier in the month Richard Albenese of Trinity Buoy Wharf spoke to the Greenwich Industrial History society about the fate of many historic vessels such as SS Robin which was built close by at Orchard House Yard; she now lies on a pontoon isolated in the Royals.  Other historic vessels can be seen at Trinity buoy Wharf, and further mooring space is sought for other endangered ships, perhaps in nearby East India Dock Basin close by which could indeed become a national centre.  This once-isolated ship building wharf is now home for the arts and is well worth visiting.

I have been know to drive the family to Trinity Buoy Wharf to the American Diner for breakfast and then explore the lighthouse and lightship, open studios and other historic craft gathered there.

A ferry from the O2 pier set amongst the lofty residential blocks with dramatic views up and down stream might appeal (10mns to North Greenwich Underground).  The speedy Thames Clippers are based here too!  The DLR also provides a passing glimpse for fair weather travellers around Canning Town.


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Dog Days along the River


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.

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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.

scan 12New 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.


A festive Newsletter for one and all of my blog readers

EPSON MFP imageIt 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!!


Riverwatch explores the lower pool

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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.

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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

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(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.

Down along the Greenwich Riverfront


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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.


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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.

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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 !!

Lest we forget



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.

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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



Historic Maritime Greenwich – Trafalgar Day 21st October 1998

Naval College001 lighterAfter 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).trafalgar001 lighter

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.

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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.


Oh no!  What a shame…

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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.

Towards the end of our Empire

Towards the end of our Empire – Private Kent S/23179244 recalls his National Service in the early ‘50s

The troopship ‘Empire Fowey’ plunged her way across the wintery Bay of Biscay bound for the Far East.  She entered a calm, blue Mediterranean with much relief for a thousand or so reinforcements on Her Majesty’s Service.  A two-day refuelling break at Gibraltar gave the opportunity to overview the defined difference between the Atlantic and the emerald blue Mediterranean and check that the famous Apes still held sway and the traditional Gibraltar  comfort stations were still open to all.

During the month-long voyage, the captain issued a clear cut, day by day guides to what could be spotted by the lower deck squaddies as well as our superiors on the upper deck.  The Sunday morning service in the Grand Ballroom gave us a hint of the grandeur of this captured German liner compared to the head-to-toe three-tiered bunks in the troop accommodation of the lower decks.

The refreshing morning breeze was enhanced by the delightful smell of crisp white rolls issuing from the bakery, and the sight of flying fish as they skimmed the billows of the tropical oceans.  Our passage through Suez was as expected, with Arab traders trying to free last week’s payday pittance before the Naafi swooped up the duty-free Indian Pale Ale.


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The heat really hit us squaddies as we tumbled off a ship-to-shore dhow onto Aden’s dusty delights – the obscure memory of a dawn approach with a replica Big Ben welcoming us to this colony and crater city.

However, in sedate Colombo, one was able to take tea in the palm-lined Settlers’ Club Room, very aware of our recently-issued tropical calico uniforms which gave the game away – our nude un-suntanned knees for all to mock.

The magic of a tropical evening on deck well away from bingo, and deck sports as towering cloud formations rose into the heavens high above, with the flash lightning dramatizing the tropical scene.  The magic quickly vanished as the ‘duty party’ later scrubbed the sticky floor with Izal (or some other foul-smelling detergent).

The Straits of Malacca gave us a hint of what was to come in ambushes in the Malayan plantations and crowded China downtown with the threat of riots never far away.

Then a dramatic dockside arrival in Singapore, lumbered with kit bags and prams, awaiting one’s turn and clutching a posting chitty (which was a mystery to customs military police).  Eventually I was the only soul left behind – until I was dispatched under escort to G.H.Q.  F.A.R.E.L.F – a lush, partitioned campus alongside the Botanical Gardens.  After a 2-day wait I was picked up by an ancient Humber staff car and driven through Singapore’s many diverse and multi-cultural settlements, then out towards the Straits of Jahore and the RAF base at Saletar.

Sunderland flying boats – amazingly still in service – Meteors and Vampires lay around awaiting scrapping prior to the Brits’ departure.  My work place was in a concrete bunker alongside the main runway where I was asked to interpret aerial photos taken at first light to catch the sight of bandit activity hidden away in the jungle.  I was to check the flight path in order to record the exact location for military action by Commonwealth forces.  This demanding intelligence gathering was essential to keep roads and railways bandit-free.  My interservice unit demanded numerous and speedy sharp-eyed talent working on demand, except when conditions were foul and flying limited; then we were off-duty – free to explore and to enjoy the social life on which colonialists thrived.  This was a shade embarrassing as, being non-commissioned, one wasn’t welcome everywhere!  Generous leave permitted sea travel to Hong Kong and Malaya – the Life of Riley as we had to pay only for messing!

By the time of our return voyage to the UK, we had learnt the ropes of avoiding the most arduous duties.  The ‘Asturias’ arrival at Southampton was most emotional as a military band let loose on ‘When the Saints Came Marching In’ – hardly a dry eye to be seen, no doubt because we had traversed the desert unscathed.  The Suez action was played out well before and after our memorable 18-month detachment!!

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