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!!
The Thames Tideway Project is going to bring new maritime activity into a long-defunct inland port which has been abandoned for many a year.
At the head of the Creek, ship building and fitting out of both naval and mercantile was extremely active since the Vikings and Tudor days. The cradle of the Navy – the East India Company Trinity House vessels were built and serviced here. Ship building and repair created opportunities undreamed of. The tidal miles-long creek was once abuzz with activity. Both road and rail connections enhanced its potential. It was along the Creek where London’s water and waste was controlled. Bazalgette’s great sewerage system for the capital was reliant on Creekside pumping stations to help effluent on its way to the Crossness Treatment plants where tankers (known as Bovril Boats) exported the waste to deep water disposal areas.
The extraordinary population growth of London and its suburbs now requires a major new civil engineering undertaking to cope with pumping and storage facilities. After extensive searches for suitable waterside sites, preliminary works are very much in hand and obvious to their neighbourhoods as jetties, pier heads and construction facilities gradually appear. The first giant boring machine has been delivered by river to Cremorne Wharf at Chelsea’s Lots Road. The size of the tunnel will be much wider than the recent Cross Rail works in order to facilitate transit and even storage on the move!!
For some twenty years or so we have endured a weekend treat as the Globe RC next door prepare their fragile craft for an early morning outing on the tideway, adjusting their blades as they board gingerly from the foreshore into the tidal Greenwich Reach of Father Thames. Soon they are a tiny speck out on the broad tideway which is bounded by enormous new structures on the Isle of Dogs and on Greenwich Peninsula.
Both Canary Wharf and down towards the O2, giant cranes lift building materials high onto the new, lofty structures which are forever growing, providing fast business in the financial sector in spite of Brexit fears!
Likewise, we are in need of an occasional outing away from my self-imposed studio commitments. A 50-minute trip down the M2 brings us to our ‘R & R’ retreat located on the broad, open estuarial reaches of the Thames at Faversham – a historic market town and ancient port. For some 50 years or so, we have retreated to a tiny ‘two-up two-down’, built for workers in the nearby gunpowder ‘field’ which supplied both the Army and Navy with the necessary – convenient for the 1918 trenches (lest we forget) and nearby Chatham Naval Base. They were reliant on local shipping for safe convenience. Local quays and wharves played an important role. Thus a regular inspection over the winter months is necessary to see how our end-of-terrace cottage is weathering the elements; also to clear away the excessive circulars which soon mount up over the quarterly bills which demand our instant attention.
One of our delights is to visit our favourite waterside pasta restaurant, delightfully sited in a provender mill with much Neapolitan charm and nosh. As we arrived we were greeted with extra broad smiles with the news that we were the first customers to experience their latest makeover: newly varnished, glossy wooden floors, new colour scheme and totally new tables, chairs and benches. Soon to be crowded with family birthday celebrations, we ordered our usual pasta vongole and reviewed the changing ambience. Shame the chef was still on Christmas leave!