The great bells of St Paul’s rang out over the working city summoning the congregation for the Annual National Service for Seafarers. A most unusual sight to see a mostly aged congregation mount the steps and file into the vastness of this great Wren masterpiece. Just before 5 the 14 strong colour parties of cadets and scouts processed with their colourful flags to the Altar followed by the Lord Mayor and civic statesmen contrasting with the youth of the assembled Nautical College students and the massed choirs.
This unique gathering was reminded of the 70th anniversary of the battle of the Atlantic as well as the perils of the sea past and present, of today’s piracy and sailors who suffer from economic pressures and uncertainties – never mind the constant perils and hazards that prevail in the oceans far and wide.
London’s prime maritime interests are being challenged today by both the Middle and Far East eagerness to take over from our long established know how.
It was good to meet our local seafarers from the nearby Trafalgar Quarters be-medalled and dignified, with their memories of their lives at sea in peace as well as at war – a prelude for Trafalgar Day and Remembrance Sunday 10th November when officers and men gave their lives in two world wars in their thousands together with a massive loss of Merchant and Fishing Fleets. Remember too that the clipper Cutty Sark is indeed a national memorial too – be sure to see the Merchant Navy memorial reinstalled on the main deck now under the magnificent hull. Other pertinent memorials are to be found in the chapel foyer of the Old Royal Naval College.
When was the last time that the Cutty Sark was seen surrounded by similar craft? Well would you believe it was this week.
‘The City of Adelaide’ came to call en route for a new home down under. Having been abandoned for 70 years in the Clyde at Irvine, she is outward bound on a Dutch owned transporter barge to Australia – quite a trip for such an old lady!! Mind you she had to be fumigated at Chatham – just like her immigrant passengers for some 27 years. This reminds me of waving my sister goodbye along with the love of her life outward bound from Tilbury on an assisted passage which, alas, ended in tragedy – when she had to be repatriated along with her son Desmond after his father was killed at the wheel of a tipper truck. We lunched last month with Desmond and his sister Diana Jane who both live in Essex not far from Leigh on Sea where their mother lived and died – (by the way she remarried happily and both loved river watching just like her brother!)
The dramatic late evening arrival at the Royal Naval College was pure theatre as the Dutch tugs manoeuvred the large barge with ‘Carrick’ on board ready for the Duke of Edinburgh to rename her on Friday afternoon. The ex clipper ‘City of Adelaide’ was to revert to her original name and be transported to Australia to become a similar iconic landmark as the Cutty Sark.
The Dutch tugs swung her round to face her towards the sea in an immaculate manoeuvre – perched on the Dordrecht based barge as close to the Royal Steps of the RNC as possible. From my studio window she looked dramatic in the flood lighting with her sister ship a little further up stream. As dawn broke one could see her elegant lines – the last time that a vessel lay in such a ceremonial view was when P&O celebrated by placing a replica of their first paddle steamer SS Oriental.
Apart from suggesting that Turner’s Fighting Temeraire has some visual connection with what happened this week in Greenwich it also serves to remind us that a forthcoming exhibition at The National Maritime Museum is called ‘Turner & the Sea’
Canon Corneck’s dream of Deptford’s revival is becoming reality as abandoned shipyards hit the news again with TV news coverage of a potential ship building campaign of ‘The Lennox’ in the shadow of the Master Shipwright’s House.
Lord Stirling’s generosity made the Cutty Sark and the Royal Barge Gloriana a reality and I am a lucky man to see behind the scenes and be able to record my impression of the state barge being built in an industrial unit at Brentford and the launch at close by Thameside pub ‘London Apprentice’.
As a friend of the National Maritime Museum, an organised visit to the ‘Batavia’ made me realise what a splendid undertaking was completed by volunteer Dutch organisations in the Ijsselmeer shipyard – which was in open country on the Zuider Zee.
Having seen recent TV coverage of the new Royal Aircraft Carrier being built in various sites made me wonder if a project such as ‘The Lennox’ replica could also be undertaken by nationwide groups, assembled in the Old Royal Dockyard in dear old Deptford and then located at the proposed Greenwich Historic Ship Harbour on the up and coming Greenwich Peninsular by the O2.
Nearer to home – well in Bristol – a replica of John Cabot’s ‘Matthew’ was built in the shadow of St Mary’s Redcliffe in the heart of the city centre. A purpose built exhibition and educational facilities attracted hordes of visitors during the construction – the outward voyage to Newfoundland and back provided as much adventure and reportage – the emotional return to the home port civic welcome and all was a great experience.
The ‘Matthew’ now lies in the floating dock for all to see and appreciate – much to be learnt from such an imaginative project. Deptford don’t be put off!!