…after a long, enduring spring which hid our lofty neighbours over in Canary Wharf from view. The low clouds and mist enwrapped even the tallest construction cranes, their essential navigational highlights only just visible! Flights in and out of London City Airport were cancelled, emphasising the isolation of the Isle of Dogs from its partners – thanks goodness for Eurotunnel.
Aerial views of the capital intrigue one and all, as they thread through and over some amazing landmarks. The O2, sited on the Prime Meridian, is indeed the superb landmark for passengers lucky enough to have window seats if approaching from the East. I was, indeed, lucky to be invited up front with the pilot to follow our passage over the Thames inbound from the Continent, reminding me how the Luftwaffe navigators found London such an easy target during the Blitz. The devastated docks, in fact, helped the birth and development of this new trading post, as did the East India Company of old. The Royal Docks have at last attracted the expected development For the curious an outing by DLR to Beckton or, indeed, Woolwich will easily reveal City Airport’s recent extensions. Arrivals and departures are best viewed from East London’s University Dockside campus, easily reached at Beckton Park station. A stroll along the Heron Quays will also amaze, as development to the East and West have nearly doubled the Canary Wharf Estate.
I can’t believe it’s over thirty years ago that I first saw the test flight onto Heron Quay initiated by Reg Ward, the LDDC’s first Chief Executive. The ‘touch-and-go’ exercise was backed by Mowlems who financed and built the City Airport complex in the Royal Docks just where my sailor brother John’s Royal Mail ship ‘Loch Ryan’ used to unload Argentinian beef!! Vivid memories of the working ‘Royals’ where ships were loaded with export, moored stem to stern with fleets of lighters and Thames Sailing Barges in attendance.
Nowadays fleets of incoming and outgoing aircraft join the merry-go-round provided by the O2 landmark with its great white Dome as they align for Heathrow, while City-bound aircraft make their final approach with flaps and wheels primed for landing. Departing aircraft climb at full power to clear Canary Wharf’s lofty towers.
A thrilling flight on the Emirates Airline cable car provides similar exciting views which I ‘highly’ recommend. A return trip will permit wonderful river and dockland panoramas as you cross high above the River Thames.
I helped illustrate Reg Ward’s dreams of even more Thameside developments down at Tilbury, which have been partly realised just before he passed away.
With the sounds of sabre-rattling very much in mind, I was privileged to take in a preview of ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ as painted by David Gommon at The Greenwich Gallery, which runs until April 29th.
A vivid sequence of the artist’s impressions is described by Brian Lavery, Curator Emeritus of the Royal National Maritime Museum in a limited edition book available to order from the Gallery. Brian is a local neighbour, as is also the famed Trafalgar Tavern – another treasure house of Nelson’s genius.
Last year Judy and I were whisked around for a week by the Laverys, visiting Historic Ships of Britain for a magical personal tour, beautifully organised, fed and watered and escorted around the major maritime venues in Portsmouth, Southampton, Bristol, here in London and down to Chatham Dockyard. The small party of Naval enthusiasts from across the pond were treated to a detailed tour around various historic dockyards, including on-board visits to Nelson’s ‘HMS Victory’ and nearby ‘HMS Warrior’ and a personal escort around the Mary Rose Museum by Chris Dobbs, an original member and diver of the project. In contrast, a visit to the RN Submarine Museum, tea at sea on board Thames Sailing Barge Alice for a tour around the Naval Base to view HM Ships (new aircraft carriers!!).
Then to Southampton Sea City Maritime Museum and by coach to go on board ‘SS Great Britain’, a boat trip around the docks, and then staying at Avon Gorge Hotel with its views across Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. Next day viewing maritime treasures at Greenwich and on to board HMS Belfast and a final dinner at the Trafalgar Tavern – what a treat!!
Brian is offering another tour 26th August to 2nd September 2018. Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coinciding with the lowest of tides, a group dressed in wet suits gathered at the waterline and, after much discussion, cast a net in to the briney at its lowest point of the ebb tide and then hoisted ashore their catch – a pair of Dace which they inspected minutely through their magnifying lens, and retreated back to the sandy beach line for an even closer inspection. Suddenly I recalled that last year a similar visiting team from the Zoological Society in Regents Park. As curious as ever, I challenged the picnic party who reaffirmed that a monthly inspection will be played when the water gets warmer!
Another unusual sighting was the passage of a grey patrol boat from the border patrol? This time of a rib design which would permit shallow water operation. The three-deck bridge carried radar domes and aerials ready for instant detection. Alas, I couldn’t spot any other identification.
A more familiar craft under way was a floating ‘conservatory’ restaurant based near Charing Cross; this time stripped of tables and chairs and, of course, dining guests, she was bound for a boatyard somewhere to undergo a refit. Also back on the tideway after the Easter break, a purposeful tug-like tender suitable for moving mechanical plant on and off the various construction sites which serve the Tideway tunnelling enterprise.
A further piscatorial thought comes to mind that – even today- Deptford Creek plays an important role as a nursery for many new fishy residents in its mile-long course through Greenwich up to Deptford Bridge. Years ago the famous Parliamentary Whitebait Feasts were held at my neighbouring Trafalgar Tavern, supplied by local fishermen who once harvested the local Thames speciality as well as eels, much loved by Cockneys of old!
Alas, fishing fleets were forced to move from these polluted waters up to Grimsby and fishing grounds as far away as the cod-rich Newfoundland Banks. Also on this falling tide, ‘Bert Prior’ coaster leaves the Norman Road Brewery Wharf aggregate depot bound for its replenishment pier just downstream of Gravesend and, of course, tug-handled barges full of London’s rubbish bound for the Cross Ness treatment plants and landfill sites. Inbound, up river, fuel tankers creep upstream to dodge under the bridges to refuel their working craft and houseboat customers.
The second phase of essential refurbishment was signalled by the removal of the downstream brow which bridges the gap between the shore line and the floating pontoon. A giant floating crane barge was required to do the lift and take it to a suitable wharf – perhaps the PLA facility at Denton just downstream from Gravesend where ‘Gloriana’, the Queen’s Royal Barge winters. The following day the downstream pontoon followed its twin to be refurbished – either at Denton or at Devrills floating dock facility just downstream at East Greenwich.
News of a new pier to be installed on an existing facility at the Intercontinental Hotel together with a café will provide tourist and river path users with another attraction, giving exciting views of Canary Wharf’s new high rise towers now under construction. The top floor of that hotel provides even more exciting panoramic views which I recommend to one and all. To have an evening drink up in this luxurious environment gives an overview of the fast-developing quarter around the O2 down towards the Thames Barrier and up to the City – best before dusk to see the illuminations brighten the sky in Docklands and later the river reflections.
Across the tideway immediately to the North at Leamouth is Trinity Buoy Wharf, an arts centre with the only lighthouse in London and the depot jetty of Thames Clippers. Close by at Good Luck Hope is another riverside residential development by Ballymore built in traditional dockland style overlooking the O2 and the dramatic Blackwall Reach and once the entrance to the historic East India Docks.
Further up the Lea, a multi-block development at City Island provides a self-contained ‘village’ formed by the oxbow of the tidal river which runs up to Stratford and beyond.
On the spur of the moment on a bright, spring-like Sunday, we decided a trip on the fast ferry up to town and back would be a joy. A gathering at the pier was quickly shepherded down to the landing pontoon and aboard, and we were on our way before the incoming tripper boats arrived from Central London.
Many other families, some with push chairs, boarded at various piers as we criss-crossed the tideway avoiding the occasional scullers and rowers who also use the river at weekends.
Passengers disembarked at the Central London piers bound for numerous attractions on both sides of the river. On our return trip we picked up passengers from Tower Pier bound for Greenwich. We were amused and amazed at the different age groups and nationalities, all handled with skill by the mooring crew and on-board stewards.
On the next day, Monday’s London-bound commuters were serviced just before PLA Titan’s floating crane came alongside the Greenwich Pier to change the pair of pontoons, due to be worked on at nearby Devrills (Victoria Deep Water Wharf) floating docks. I was on the lookout for the many civil and maritime engineers hard at work on numerous sites. I have never seen so many before – no wonder as a whole new raft of major projects have come on stream! An extract from the Times includes a map and details of various projects. A visit to the Tideway site at Bermondsey clarified my interests in SE London – I include items which might be of interest.
The Bermondsey site at Chambers Wharf for ‘Tideway’ (Once a giant cold store)
A new extension site into the Thames is clearly shown below Tower Bridge
‘The CASE of the Inhabitants of GREENWICH in the County of Kent, and Reasons why they ask Relief for Rebuilding their Parish-Church’, 1711
This week, St Alfege Church held a simple and moving re-enactment of a plea to Parliament of some 300 years ago to finance the reconstruction of their parish church having been destroyed in the Great Storm, and also for aid for some 2,000 seafarers who were shipwrecked in the naval disaster in the Isle of Scilly. Many were from Greenwich and Deptford Dockyard communities.
The fleet with Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell on board came to grief on a reef and resulted in devastating loss of life. Subsequently, additional essential navigational aids were invented, such as the Harrison Clock (now on display in the National Maritime Museum). Trinity House, the navigational authority, was also founded 300 years ago, based close by in Deptford Strond.
The ceremony was held this week on St. Valentine’s Day in St. Alfege’s Church – the first church rebuilt by Hawksmoor and Sir Christopher Wren after the great Fire of London. This was a moving re-enactment, with the Church Wardens submitting their plea to civic and church leaders before a gathering of parish men. St Alfege also celebrated with the announcement of their successful lottery grant application, which will enable further essential refurbishment of this monumental landmark in Greenwich Town Centre.
Although best known locally as former MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, Nick Raynsford has had a long-term interest in photography, dating back to his time as a student at Chelsea School of Art in the late 1960s.
Now retired and living by the Thames at the Millennium Village, he has kept his eagle eye, not only on the tideway but during his travels.
Be sure to see ‘Nick Raynsford on Water’ at The Greenwich Gallery in Peyton Place just off Royal Hill in Greenwich. A crowded opening party last Thursday was overwhelming and more private view is recommended. All proceeds to the housing charity: Crisis.
A portfolio book is available at
The exhibition is open until February 18th.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9:30-17:30; Saturday and Sunday 12:00-16:00
Do go – you will be amazed at Nick’s creative talent!!