Riverwatch is 25 years old!

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Exactly twelve years ago, I reviewed the events that  Riverwatch had recorded over the previous 13 years.  25 years ago, we had only just moved down to our riverside house – having done a very happy house-swap – and had invite out friends to admire our new world alongside the Royal Naval College and the Trafalgar Tavern.  Desmond and Carol Pritchard had been producing their relaunched version of ‘the Guide’ in Blackheath and were always on the lookout for an occasional front cover.

My enthusiasm was no doubt over the top and eventually Desmond, the editor, said: “Peter, put your pen to paper.  Tell the folk up the hill all about it”.  And so, Riverwatch was conceived, exactly 25 years ago!

My first reports were based on my observations on shipping and other craft that traded on the Thames.  Back in those days, large merchant ships were commonplace.  Giant white ‘roll-on,roll-off’ freighters delivered great rolls of newsprint to the purpose-built Convoy’s Wharf at Deptford.  Coasters from the Rhine brought in steel plate and emerald green Irish freighters brought maize.

But things quickly started to change.  Before our eyes, the developers moved in to disused wharves and towering blocks of flats popped up everywhere.  We saw the birth pains of a new city over in Canary Wharf, marvelling at the Manhattan madness but revelling in each new shopping mall and restaurant complex.  How fortunate I was to sketch the exhilarating scene, clinging onto my dust-blown sketch book balanced amongst the towering cranes, meeting both the astonished locals and the enthusiastic engineers.

How I recall enjoying the first DLR to Greenwich and the sparkling new Jubilee Line which has magically annexed our communities to the heart of the capital through a bevy of under-river tunnels.  Soon, City Airport was to have a direct link to Woolwich to spur even more regeneration.

The spectacle of the (sadly unloved at the time) Dome rising out of the polluted peninsula is remembered with pride.  We gasped as the great pylons were erected and soon the ingenious roof created not only to cope with the Millennium Experience but later for the vast entertainment complex of the O2.  Plans for the new peninsula proceeded, and we now have a complete new town on our doorstep.

Every daily tide brought new surprises – perhaps an aircraft carrier or two, reminding me of the ceremonial salutes exchanged between inco9ming warships and the Royal Naval College at the last sailing of HMY Britannia and the closure celebrations as the navy left Greenwich for good in 1998 (not a dry eye to be seen).

The splendid refurbishment of Wren’s great building has since opened up a gateway between East and West Greenwich and welcomed the students of University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music.  Now citizens and visitors can stroll through these architectural gems with ease and delight.

Back in 2006, refurbishment of the Visitor Centre, the Cutty Sark and Cutty Sark Gardens were still at planning stage.  Sir Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth IV had recently been removed from display, only to run aground on some isolated Pacific Reef!


Alas, I have to report the sad news of the passing of Desmond Pritchett at his home by the sea in Bournemouth – a jolly chap who enjoyed many a new year celebration with his Blackheath chums, outings to Cherbourg for tall ship events, even travelling to Hong Kong for the seven-a-side rugby.  After the Kents moved down to Greenwich waterfront, it was friends Desmond and Carol Pritchett who inspired me to write and illustrate a monthly article for their restored and sparkling Guide Magazine.  Riverwatch then became a ‘blog’ – ‘Riverwatch Returns’ – generously produced by Tony and Helen Othen, based on the same style and content as before and has survived now for 25 years!!

Falmouth Classics 2018


“Westward Ho!” with the GWR taking the strain from Paddington.  Leaving at coffee time and arriving for an early supper turned out to be magical indeed, with sailing craft of all types criss-crossing the Carrick ‘Roads’ gathered for Falmouth Classics.  This is perhaps the largest get-together of some 200 iconic sailing craft together with colourful characters who gather around the streets and quays echoing to the joyous sea shanties performed by young and old in the glorious summer weather.  A treat indeed!

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Gathered around St Mawes Castle with stunning views of the classic boat parade propelled by oars, sail and engine brought back memories of last year’s Greenwich Festival.  Two cruise ships moored adjacent to the 10-year-old National Maritime Museum together with a pair of fleet fuellers freshly built or refurbished to maintain the Royal Navy’s fleet readiness.  Tucked away in the floating dock the much-honoured RFA Argos was undergoing a much deserved refit, while two brand new super-motor yachts ready for the Med or even the Caribbean sparkled in the sunlight.

I was overjoyed to meet Richard Doughty who now runs the Cornwall NMM having overseen the dramatic reconstruction of Cutty Sark here in Greenwich, and been responsible for breathing new life into Gypsy Moth III.  His successful spell here in Greenwich followed his springing new life into the National Fisheries Museum in Grimsby.


Fabulous maritime tour – do join us?

Peter and Judy on board sailing barge Alice


Join the Kents on a tour of maritime collections from Portsmouth, across to Bristol and back to Greenwich and on to Chatham.  Everything organised, including expert guidance around our royal dockyards and ports of old, viewing the most interesting historic ships and collections – even an outing on a Thames sailing barge around Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent and, of course, The Mary Rose.


Artist at work


Peter and Judy inspecting the fleet from sailing barge Alice



Brian Lavery is offering a repeat of last year’s guided tour.  Brian is author of ‘Nelson’s Navy’ and is a curator emeritus at the National Maritime Museum.  Last year he introduced us to Britain’s maritime glories, piloting us through naval and maritime historic venues and collections in the company of enthusiasts from both sides of the pond.  We stayed at landmark hotels, dining in company at amazing venues.  Door to door transport is included.

Phone me if you need to know more, or contact Brian at lavery.maritime.tours@gmail.com.

Peter and Brian admiring the view from top of Spinnaker Tower

In the archives at Greenwich NMM


Phone me if you need to know more, or contact Brian at lavery.maritime.tours@gmail.com.


SS Great Britain in Bristol Harbour


Artist at work Spinnaker Tower


Phone me if you need to know more, or contact Brian at lavery.maritime.tours@gmail.com.



Put out more flags!

The Trafalgar has just been dressed overall with newly-installed union jacks, hoisted on all sides including humble Crane Street.  Four have also been installed on the Trafalgar’s flank wall and a set of windows revealed replacing thosse bricked up over the kitchen so folk couldn’t peer into the engine room of the hospitality venue.

Frank Dowling, who hails from Manhattan, took over the establishment from Dillon Wood who understood the significance of this British landmark that celebrates our national hero.  Naval units from every seafaring nation used to line their decks to receive the expected salute from the Royal Steps of the Royal Naval College; the handsome gates were opened for the duty officer to take the salute, often escorted by a guard duty mounted by the Inspector of the Admiralty Police.

It was the custom that visiting naval vessels passing upstream lowered their ensigns in respect as commanded from the Bridge.  If well briefed and warned, landlord Dillon would organise a salute in response to those gathered and called to attention by firing a small signal cannon and lowering his ensign in respect.  Visitors and the Greenwich Police were always informed of this ceremony.

Nowadays there is no requirement for this interesting gesture as the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban thrive within these historic buildings.  The upkeep and care of estate management is of the highest standard and they should be congratulated on their upgrading whenever possible.

Do visit this famous tavern and inspect the amazing collection of naval and maritime craft captured by various artists through the centuries, many acquired from Dick Moy’s collections of Greenwich through Frank’s diligence in spotting those works at the auction held in their grand ballroom.

I should report on a maritime drama just off shore on a neap tide, when a small yacht took to going into Newcastle Dock on the Isle of Dogs after a dramatic incident.  The elderly skipper took the unusual opportunity to run aground.  Before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ the RNLI rib based at Waterloo appeared in the company of the fire brigade rescue float, the River Police and the Port of London’s Harbour Master launch – a very impressive turnout, much to the embarrassment of the Skipper.  I know how he felt, having experienced a similar incident in my youth up on the River Colne at East Mersea!!

Destination London – Choose to Cruise


The first cruise ship arrival early on the Spring Bank Holiday created a stir amongst local riverside residents and visiting tourists who thronged into Maritime Greenwich in the glorious sunshine.

The Port of London’s floating cruise terminal was spick and span back in its summer mooring just off Deptford Creek, known as Greenwich Ships Tier; believe it or not, tidal waters flush out a suitable deep water mooring.  ‘Welcome’ was a homemade job created down at the PLA’s yard at Denton just downstream from Gravesend, created out of a floating barge with added accommodation reception areas so that passengers can board ship-to-shore tenders in an orderly manner.


‘Viking Sun’ – a Norwegian cruise ship – was the first of the seasonal visitors, followed by ‘Silver Cloud’.  She stayed over the weekend and was indeed my birthday treat.  To top that, two other medium-size cruise ships followed in taking moorings up in the Pool of London, one alongside HMS Belfast, the other cruised up toward Tower Bridge and turned about aided by a tug at the stern to saunter down to ‘Welcome’ on the evening ebb.

The proposed new ‘London City Cruise Port’ development at Enderby Wharf has run into political objections from the Green Party at the recent local elections.  Objections are to the constant 24-hour power generator from ships’ engine rooms polluting the already suspect air quality.  I kept a wary eye on the visiting ship funnels to see the effect during this surprisingly hot weather.  Journeying in y car from Kent we noticed low-lying pollution over our part of town, even more noticeable as aircraft approached City Airport through a murky haze.

My recommended birthday treat is to meet the family down at Faversham’s Creekside ‘Italian’, an old brick warehouse set by the tidal creek and Thames barges, and to be served a delicious luncheon with a friendly atmosphere.  (Posillipo at Provender Mill, Belvedere Road, Faversham)

An early departure down the M20 to Hollingbourne where one climbs up and over the Downs through lanes winding through valleys and orchards in fresh bloom, a gentle descent down to the marshes of the Swale and dinghy sailing adventures of old – to beat the traffic returning to our Thameside home and then to watch the splendid departure of a great ship passing by into the sunset on an ebb tide… ah me! 85 isn’t that bad!!

Amazing new spring growth along the Marathon route…


…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.

Well, hoorah!  Today spring matured into summer, just in time for the Marathon when the world gasps with delight as TV follows the runners through the capital’s green, tree-lined avenues and parks.

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.

An artist’s interpretation of the Battle of Trafalgar


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:  lavery.maritime.tours@gmail.com.