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.
My 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.
Almost 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.
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
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.
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.