Ballast Quay looked at its very best in the summer sun with crowded riverside tables sampling the delights of the revamped Cutty Sark pub. Just next door, the riverside garden was also brimming with visitors being entertained by neighbours for the Open Garden event. The specially arranged historical exhibition in the garden shed/studio provided an illuminating display tracing the history of this workaday end of Greenwich which is still undergoing rapid change as great chunks of industrial premises are being bulldozed in anticipation of residential development.
I celebrated the garden event and made a return visit to enjoy the gathered company of both old and new residents. The organisers certainly deserved much praise in planning and sprucing up this most unusual strip of land. It was a joy to re-meet Hilary Peters, the worthy landscape gardener, returning to her first base which she originally designed and planted. Her work in softening the harsh industrial nature of St. Katherines Dock during Taylor Woodrow’s conversion of the working docks into a leisure marina has been a triumph and a lesson to all. Hilary now lives in grander style at Badminton.
The historical and architectural delight of Ballast Quay have been carefully enhanced by residents over the years. The planting of the strip garden, full of variety and land level generous planting, set amongst the maturing trees, is indeed a delight. Local historians produced readable booklets for the event and were there to be quizzed by so many enthusiasts. Bravo all round! The tea and buns were delicious too – just like the old days when these tea gardens used to open during summer weekends.
Meanwhile, further down stream, controversy still reigns as the once industrial wharves are being redeveloped to take the maximum residential units, no doubt disguised in a maritime theme to attract the punters in. Mary Mills’ latest guide paints the ever-changing scene of East Greenwich, while Julie Tadman turned up from Brisbane clutching her Australian printed ‘A Fisherman of Greenwich’. She found herself amongst fellow enthusiasts who admired her enterprise in turning up herself to present her research about her fisher folk forbears who once fished these waters – remarkable !!
The well-attended gatherings provided a golden opportunity for past and present residents and relatives to chew the cud about the ‘good old days’ in this remarkable ‘riverside hamlet’, which still retains its curious character , and which has been our home for nearly twenty years. When we first came to live in Greenwich we were fortunate to live above the smog line in fashionable Hyde Vale. The ‘wee’ Queen Anne terraced house and its neighbours provided the perfect base for raising our two children, but eventually we moved to around the corner in nearby Diamond Terrace – a grander residence, once the home of John Masefield, the poet laureat. Upon the first day of our arrival, a knock on the door by his biographer Constance Babbington Smith rang an instant bell for me ! For, as a soldier boy who plotted aerial photographers for survey and military purposes out in Malaysia, I instantly recognised her as being the discoverer of the elusive Nazi rocket sites which rained V1 and V2 projectiles onto these shores during WW2. Our consequent dialogue resulted in an invitation for both father and daughter to attend a ceremony in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner to witness Sir Peter Masefield of BEA fame unveiling the commemorative plaque which provided wonderful ammo for her English discourse at Blackheath High School, where perhaps our grandaughter might soon attend !! It seemed only poetic justice for the Kents to further downsize to our Crane Street home and studio right on the Thames bank at Highbridge – Masefield would have approved !!
Immediately next door, a new roof was installed to an existing boat club. The twin peak design, alas, impinged on the upriver view from my studio. The magnificent twin domes of the Royal Naval College and part of the Park Row facades for the moment can still be seen. Alas, a projected hotel scheme doesn’t bode well for the future.
My gosh hasn’t Greenwich changed…
Looking back to when we first arrived, some 40 years ago, to this rather ‘down at heel’ river town to set up home on the heath – Hyde Vale had an inspiring view of St Pauls Cathedral – now somewhat belittled by the high rise developments in the City, South Bank and Docklands and even closer to home, historic Greenwich is under attack.
The new University School of Architecture now being built has an extraordinary heavy foot print on its Georgian neighbours. Likewise the Creek Road New Capital Quay riverside residential scheme is nearly the same size in area as the town centre – the high rise 12 storey tower at the peak of the scheme dwarfs even the massive cruise ship ‘The World’ anchored just off shore.
Meanwhile closer to our riverside home, East Greenwich’s Lovell Wharf residential scheme covers a whole slice of an old industrial wharf site. ( I hope the recent discovery of a tidal water mill site will be respected).
The old General hospital site is of remarkable scale as viewed from my GP’s Vanbrugh Hill clinic. The bold design humbles the low rise Trafalgar Road shop frontages and the cosy surrounding neighbourhood.
The sole remaining power station used by London Transport has a majestic scale together with its river landing stage giving us a hint of yesteryear tall masted shipping.
From my Crane Street riverside house (named after the crane site of the Palace of Placentia) I can today count at least 15 cranes operating along the riverside or in Canary Wharf. Recession or not, construction still goes on. Canary Wharf led the way in high rise schemes – it is not everybody that can say they witnessed a birth of a city!!
Even Deptford Creek is gaining stature. Laban has led the way – Creek Road has changed beyond recognition on that historic Thameside where ships were built and engineed old factories and victualling yards have been earmarked for even more dense high rise developments. While on the Peninsular the O2 has mushroomed and the nearby Millennium Village has been occupied by a growing population.