Category Archives: The Thames

The View From Blackfriars Bridge, Birds And A Fountain

This week I am on the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge, looking along the river towards the west. This was the view that my father photographed in 1952:

Blackfriars Bridge

And the view from the same location, 65 years later in 2017:

Blackfriars Bridge

The buildings on the north bank of the river stand out well in my father’s photo, he had timed the sun perfectly. Shell Mex House, the Savoy, Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House provide a contrast with the south bank of the river.

In 1952, the south bank of the river was still an industrial landscape with warehouses lining the river’s edge and jetties sticking out into the river. All this has long since disappeared and the occasional remains of some of the jetties can be seen above the water, or on the muddy edge of the river at low tide.

Whilst the south bank of the river has changed dramatically, the north bank along this stretch of the river has hardly changed. A closer examination would show there have been cosmetic changes to the buildings, but at this distance the view looks much the same.

Blackfriars Bridge is the second bridge across the river at this location. It was designed by Joseph Cubitt, who was also responsible for the original Blackfriars Rail Bridge, the columns of which can still be seen in the river between the road bridge and the later rail bridge.

It was opened by Queen Victoria in 1869, on the same day as she opened Holborn Viaduct – a perfect illustration of how much development of the city’s infrastructure was taking place in the later half of the 19th century.

The top of the bridge is rather plain. The view to the east is obscured by the Blackfriars Rail Bridge and the new building work along the top of the bridge. To the west is the open view towards Waterloo Bridge along the stretch of the river known as King’s Reach.

It is always interesting to look over the side of a bridge, and if you peer over the edge and look at the tops of the columns supporting Blackfriars Bridge you will find a series of beautifully carved birds. These were by the sculptor J.B. Philip and are carved in Portland Stone.

The birds along the west-facing side of the bridge are apparently fresh water birds and those on the eastern side of the bridge are salt water birds. I have read that the bridge marks the boundary of salt water penetration up the Thames, however I doubt this is correct, or that there is a clear boundary.  The Port of London Authority puts the boundary of river water and salt water at Barking, however this will move up or down river dependent on tides and the volumes of fresh water coming from the upper Thames. Theoretically, the river could have a gradually reducing salt content all the way to the tidal limit at Teddington Lock.

Starting from the northern end of the bridge, these are the four sets of birds that look out over the river, upstream towards the west:

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

And walking back along the eastern side of the bridge, these are the birds looking along the river towards the estuary and the sea (although their view is blocked by the railway bridge):

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge

A plaque at the north-eastern corner of the bridge records that the current Blackfriars Bridge is on the site of the original 1760 bridge which was named after William Pitt the Elder who was Prime Minister during the construction of the bridge from 1760 to 1769. The name did not catch on and the location of the bridge gradually gave the name to Blackfriars Bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge

The plaque also records that the bridge was widened in 1909. This was done by adding 9 meters on the western edge of the bridge to allow tram lines to be run across the bridge. The following postcard shows a bus running along the western side of the bridge.

Blackfriars Bridge

The last time I took photos along the bridge was in 2014 and the building at the north-east corner of the bridge was empty and boarded up. I was rather worried about the wonderful fountain in front of this building after seeing building work and construction hoarding hiding the fountain from the pavement. The fountain was provided by the Metropolitan Free Drinking Fountain Association and erected by the Association in July 1861 by the Chairman Samuel Gurney MP.

The hoarding is now coming down with wire fencing remaining and it is good to see the fountain still looking good after 156 years.

Blackfriars Bridge

I have always been fascinated by the River Thames. Despite being the reason for London being where it is, and for the success of the City, today the river is often seen either as a flood risk or as a valuable scenic addition to the luxury apartments that continue to line the river.

Blackfriars Bridge is a means to cross the river, however the birds along the edges of the bridge acknowledge the river and the differences between the upstream and downstream sections of the river, pointing inland or down to the sea. The birds show that the river is not just a barrier to be crossed, but a living part of the city’s landscape.

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Old Swan Stairs

Following last Sunday’s post covering the first part of my walk around London’s West End theatres, I had been expecting to publish the second part a couple of days ago, however I must admit I have never really counted up how many theatres there are (over 40), so I am still working on the post. Therefore today, back to one of my father’s photos of London 70 years ago.

This is my father’s post war view of the stretch of the north bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Cannon Street Station:

Old Swan Stairs

The magnificent framework of the original glass roof of Cannon Street Station is in the rear of the photo, the glass had previously been removed so this is just the metal framework.

My father was standing on London Bridge to take the photo and the river front consists of space cleared of buildings damaged by wartime bombing and some of the remaining warehouse and wharf buildings.

I took a wider photo of the scene today to set the context as the side walls of Cannon Street Station are now obscured and the station has long since lost the original roof.

Old Swan Stairs

The scene has completely changed, and the perspective of the two photos looks different due to very different lens and camera types, however there are some features remaining that allow the buildings in the original photo to be located.

The following map extract is from the 1952 Ordnance Survey map of the area (published in 1952, surveyed the previous year).

Old Swan Stairs

In the map, Cannon Street Station is the large building, partly shown on the left of the map.

The first feature to identify on the photo is Old Swan Pier. In the map, this can be seen running from a small, rectangular indentation in the river wall. In the original photo, this is the metal walkway that can just be seen running out from the river wall, with the small indentation in the river wall also partly visible.

This allows the building to be identified adjacent to the pier, this is Swan Wharf, the building has a date on the very top which I can just make out as either 1896 or 1894.

Now follow the river wall from the pier and Swan Wharf back to the right hand edge of the photo and the river wall steps back twice, once alongside the edge of the Swan Wharf building, and the second slightly further along. These two steps backs in the river wall can also be seen in the 1952 map which identifies the building to the right of the crane as the building at the end of Old Swan Wharf in the map.

The definition of the original film is not sufficient to clearly read the white writing on the side of the crane, but it appears to read “The Swan Wharf & ———“. I cannot make out the last word.

Given the level of redevelopment in this area it would be surprising if any of these features (apart from the station) remain, however there are some that allow the location of the original buildings to be placed along the river’s edge today.

Firstly, look along the river wall in today’s photo and you will see an indention in the river wall. This is the same indentation as at the location of the pier in the original photo and was retained as this gap in the river wall is the location of Old Swan Stairs, one of the many historic stairs leading down to the river.

Two dolphin structures can also be seen in the river, these are a couple of the remaining supports from the Old Swan Pier.

To the right of the stairs in today’s photo is a large tree, this is the location of the Swan Wharf building in the original photo.

From the tree to the right of today’s photo there are two step backs in the river wall. These are the same as those in the post war photo, with the old building to the right of the crane being the building at the end of Old Swan Wharfe in the 1952 map.

Old Swan Stairs have been here for many centuries. The following extract from John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows Old Swan Stairs.

Old Swan Stairs

In the 1746 map, the stairs are at the end of Ebbgate Lane, in the 1952 map this lane was then Swan Lane with Old Swan Lane to the left in both maps.

Swan Stairs were mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys and in Stow’s 1603 Survey of London there is a mention Old Swan: “This ward turneth into Thames streete westwarde, some ten houses on a side to the course of the Walbrooke, but East in Thames streets on both sides to Ebgate lane, or old Swan.” in his description of the boundaries of Downegate (Dowgate) Ward.

In Old and New London, Walter Thornbury writes about how Swan Stairs were used to avoid the dangers of passing under the old London Bridge by boat: “The Swan Stairs, a little ‘above bridge’ was the place where people coming by boat used to land to walk to the other side of Old London Bridge when the current was swift and narrow between the starlings, and ‘shooting the bridge’ was rather like going down the rapids. Citizens usually took boat again at Billingsgate, as we find Johnson and Boswell once doing, on their way to Greenwich in 1763.”

Old Swan Stairs were also the starting point for the Swan Upping ceremony when it started in central London. My father took some photos of Swan Upping starting around Old Swan Stairs and in the following photo is Mr Richard Turk who was the Vintners Swan Marker and Barge Master, with the Old Swan Pier in the background. The sign on the right of the piers indicates that boats to Greenwich could be boarded here. My full post on Swan Upping can be found here.

Old Swan Stairs

I am not sure exactly when Old Swan Pier opened, however the first adverts I can find for sailings from the pier are from 1838, when on the 21st May the Shipping and Mercantile Gazette carried an advert for “Steam – Cheap Fares from Old Swan Pier” . The sailings were:

  • To Gravesend – every morning at 9 o’clock, precisely. Cabin 1s: Saloon 1s 6d
  • To Richmond – Daily at half-past 9, calling at Hungerford at 10 o’clock, and to Twickenham every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Week days 1s 6d; on Sundays 2s.
  • To Woolwich – Every Sunday at 10, 2 and 5, calling at West India Dock Pier, Blackwall, at 11, 3 and 6. To Woolwich 1s, to Blackwall 9d, from Blackwall to Woolwich, 6d

The earliest newspaper report I could find referring to Old Swan Stairs is from the 9th August 1729, when it was reported that:

“Last Monday a Waterman, naked all but his shirt, rowed in a Butcher’s Tray from the Old Swan Stairs, to Greenwich, for a Wager of four Guineas, and won the same”

There are frequent mentions of Old Swan Stairs in newspaper reports since the early 18th century, and they describe the life and tragedies that must have been day to day experiences along this stretch of the Thames.

From the London reports of the Ipswich Journal on the 12th February 1743:

“Sunday Morning a young Man, dressed in a Sailor’s Jacket with Trowsers and a speckled Shirt was found in the Mud near the Old Swan Stairs; his Buckles, which were supposed to be Silver, were taken out of his Shoes. He was carried into the Church-yard, near the Stairs, till own’d, or a Warrant granted for his Burial”.

The implications being that either he was murdered for the silver shoe buckles, or he had died accidentally and his shoe buckles had been stolen.

Standing at Old Swan Stairs would have provided a fascinating view across to what would later be Southwark Cathedral with London Bridge to the left. John Cleverly made the following drawing  (©Trustees of the British Museum) of the view from Old Swan Stairs in 1792. Old Swan Stairs

Despite the land along the river having changed so dramatically over the last 70 years, we can still find features that date back hundreds of years and allow us to accurately place events from centuries of London’s history.

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Warehouses And Barges In The Heart Of The City

I have been travelling and working outside of the country for some of the last two weeks, so my apologies that this is a rather brief post.

Long before the docks running east along the River Thames from Tower Bridge were built, the docks of London lined the river in the heart of the City. Large ships could only travel as far as London Bridge, so to get to the warehouses further west along the river, goods had to be moved onto barges which could then travel underneath the bridges.

As the size of ships and the number visiting London grew, the London Docks, West India Docks, Royal Victoria Docks etc. diverted trade from the centre of the City, however the warehouses along the river west from Tower Bridge continued on until gradually closing during the last decades of the 20th century.

There were a large number of warehouses lining the river between Southwark and Blackfriars Bridges and some of my father’s photos show one of these warehouses in action.

This was the view, looking west from Southwark Bridge. The Vinter’s Company Hall is on the extreme right of the photo and just past this is a barge being unloaded with sacks being carried by crane into the warehouse.

working-wharf-1

To save space, the cranes were generally mounted on the side of the warehouse. Barges would be taken alongside and goods transferred to and from the barge. If you look to the top right, the control cabin of the crane can be seen along with a man in what appears to be a white shirt operating the crane.

This is the same scene today. The riverside facade of the Vinter’s Hall was rebuilt in the 1990’s. In the distance, the curved Unilever House can be seen on the right and on the left, Shell Mex House.

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This is a wider view of the river. The Oxo Tower is standing clear on the south bank of the river.

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This is the same view today. The Oxo Tower is still there, but is hidden behind the developments on the south bank.

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My father walked a bit further along Southwark Bridge and took the following view looking back at the warehouse. This shows the way cranes were installed on the edge of the buildings. The length of the boom was needed to reach barges moored in front of the warehouse and to reach the top floors of the warehouse. This avoided the need to transport goods between floors within the warehouse.

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The same view today.

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Although very little is left of the old warehouses that once covered so much of the banks of the river, if you look down on the river edge at low tide, you can often see large areas of white chalk. To provide a stable and flat surface on which the barges could settle at low tide whilst moored alongside the warehouse, chalk was compacted into the surface of the river bank.

Reading accounts of the river during the 18th and 19th centuries, it is hard to believe that the river was once so busy. A couple of prints from the British Museum show an amazing number of vessels and considerable activity on the river. It was the high number of ships, growth in the size of ships and lack of warehouse and mooring space along the river in the heart of the city that resulted in the development of the large docks east of Tower Bridge in the 19th century.

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This print from 1841 shows London Bridge with Southwark Cathedral on the left and the Monument on the right.

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A few weeks ago I was contacted by David Smith whose mother had taken a number of photos in London during the early 1960s.

They are all in colour and provide some fascinating views of the city and I am very grateful to David for letting me publish some of them.

The following photo is of the warehouses just a bit further along the river towards Blackfriars Bridge. In the background is St. Paul’s Cathedral with the dome covered in scaffolding – I have not seen a photo of this before.

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The warehouse on the left with the four red cranes and red doors and windows is the Sunlight Wharf of the LEP Company and LEP Transport Ltd.

When the LEP warehouses were redeveloped in the 1980s, the LEP Group published a fascinating history of the area on which the warehouse had been built. The book provides an insight into the operation of the warehouse:

“The four swinging cranes at Sunlight Wharf served an incessant queue of barges maneuvering for a position at the wharf. Cargoes varied from animal pelts to Polish onions, which were unloaded straight out of the barges into hinged flaps outside the doors of the appropriate floor of the warehouse. The fifth floor of the warehouse remained exclusively offices, the other floors were used for storage and as a Bond warehouse. After the Second World War the scene changed, the number of barges diminished and the ten ton Butters crane replaced the four swinging cranes. This could cope with a greater load and could unload straight from a barge into a waiting vehicle. It was for many years the only – and the last – working crane on the City’s riverfront. It was dismantled in January 1983, defeated by containerisation. Likewise Sunlight Wharf had the distinction of being the last wharf operating as such in the City.”

The Butters crane is the one immediately to the left of the LEP Sunlight Wharf buildings.

I took the following photo of the crane and Sunlight Wharf buildings just before demolition. I was walking along the new White Lion Hill which had been constructed as part of the development of the area to lead down from Queen Victoria Street to the Embankment. See here for the full post and photos of the area and excavations of Baynard’s castle.

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Included in the photos that David sent was the following taken from Tower Bridge. Note the cranes along the southern bank of the river and the large ship docked on the right of London Bridge.

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And the following view from London Bridge. The cranes on the right are along the warehouses that backed onto Pickle Herring Street.

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Another view, again showing the size of ship that would moor in this stretch of the river, alongside the warehouses at Pickle Herring Street.

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The cranes along this stretch of the river have long gone. Some of the old warehouse buildings still survive, but now serve other purposes. The majority of the docks east of Tower Bridge have also closed apart from Tilbury Docks as the size of ships continued to grow along with the large areas of land needed for container storage. I hope to cover the London Docks in far more detail in the future.

My thanks again to David Smith for letting me see and publish some of his mother’s photos.

I mentioned at the start, that this is a brief post as I have been travelling for work over the last few weeks. I flew back into Heathrow one evening last week and had a window seat on the right side of the plane as the route was over the south of London providing a fantastic view of the city on a clear night.

Flying over London provides a wonderful opportunity to see the layout of the city, the river, rail tracks, buildings etc. and at night the city looks fantastic. Whilst the majority of other passengers seemed oblivious to the view of London, I had my eyes and phone pressed against the window taking photos as the plane flew over south London, and consolidated the photos into the following video.

flying-over-london

The view starts with the river and Tower Bridge as well as the dark thin line of the very straight rail track into London Bridge station, flying to the west and the red lit London Eye and ending with Chelsea Bridge and the dark of the park in front of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

In centuries past, travelers to London from abroad would have traveled up the Thames and landed at one of the many steps along the river. Now they fly over the city and land to the west.

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Along The Thames In 1947 And 2016 – Tower Bridge To Westminster Bridge

During the afternoon of Saturday 23rd August 1947, my father took a boat trip along the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich. I am able to date this accurately as the date was written on a number of the photos taken along the route that he printed afterwards.

I will be on the river later this year to photograph the same views on the stretch between Tower Bridge and Greenwich, however for the photos covering the route between Westminster and Tower Bridges, I cheated by taking a walk along the south bank of the river to photograph the north bank views.

My father’s photos were taken from a boat at low tide, so I was not able to get the view exactly right, however they do show roughly the same view and the changes that have occurred along the north bank of the river.

I have not processed these photos, they are straight from the scanner and some show some imperfections. I prefer the unprocessed look as a more genuine presentation of photos that are now 69 years old. Film was hard to get just two years after the war had finished and these photos were taken on 35mm movie film which was cut up to fit the film holder in the camera. I have no idea why movie film was available, or where it came from.

After taking the photos for last week’s post about Tower Bridge, I continued along the south bank of the river towards Westminster, so these photos are in reverse order.

Starting the journey in 1947 with the Tower of London. As with last week’s photos the beach in front of the Tower looks to be busy on an August summer afternoon.

Southbank Walk 1

The view today from the opposite bank of the river. There are few high buildings immediately behind the Tower to detract from the view, however I doubt that this will remain the same for long, the number of cranes in the background are rather threatening.

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Just past the Tower is this view. The Tower of London is at the right of the photo (just behind the trees) and the large building in the centre is the former Port of London Authority building.

The area on the left of the photo, down to the river was bombed heavily during the war. To the left of the photo is the shell of a church tower. This is the church of All Hallows by the Tower. Below the PLA building and facing the river is the side of a building. This is the Ye Old Tiger Tavern on Tower Hill which survived bombing but was later pulled down in the reconstruction of the area. More on these buildings and the area in later posts.

Southbank Walk 2

The view today. I should have been a bit further to the left, however the Belfast would have obstructed much of the view. The tower of the PLA building is still visible, however the new buildings on the left have obscured the view of All Hallows by the Tower which was rebuilt after the war.

Southbank Walk 14

Further along we come to Billingsgate Market, with the Customs House on the right and the tower of the church of St. Dunstan in the East just behind the Custom House.

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And the view today (although partially obscured by one of the new piers along the Thames). Billingsgate, the Custom House and the tower of St. Dunstan’s are the only buildings that remain from 1947 with the towers of the City rising up behind.

Southbank Walk 16The following photo shows the edge of the Billingsgate Market building on the extreme right of the photo. There is then a gap which before the war was occupied by Nicholson’s Wharf, destroyed by bombing along with a direct hit by a V1 flying bomb. To the left of the gap is New Fresh Wharf. This was a busy wharf that handled very large volumes of goods, general goods, fruit and canned goods as well as operating as a terminal for passenger ferries.

New Fresh Wharf was demolished in 1973. The building on the extreme left of the photo is Adelaide House. Construction of Adelaide House was completed in 1925. It is now a Grade II listed building. The dock facilities of New Fresh Wharf extended along the river frontage of Adelaide House.

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The same view today with Billingsgate on the right of the photo and Adelaide House of the left. The scene in-between these two buildings is now completely different.

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We have now moved further along the river, past London Bridge, the version of the bridge prior to the current one can be seen in the following photo with Adelaide House and New Fresh Wharf behind the bridge. We can now see the Monument and to the left of the bridge is Fishmongers Hall, the home of the Fishmongers’ Company. Damaged caused by bombing can be seen to the left.

Southbank Walk 6

Almost the same view today, although I should have been on a boat, mid river as my father was to get the same perspective. Adelaide House, the Monument and Fishmongers Hall are still there. My father’s photo included the 19th Century version of London Bridge and my photo shows the 1974 incarnation of the bridge that has crossed the river in roughly the same location for many hundreds of years.

Southbank Walk 18

If we now pass under the bridge taking the rail tracks across the river into Cannon Street Station, and view the small space between Cannon Street Station and Southwark Bridge. Cannon Street Station is on the right with the structure on top that held the glass canopy to the station. The church is St. Michael Paternoster Royal.

Southbank Walk 7

The view today. Cannon Street Station still on the right, although without the original roof, offices have now been built above the station platforms. The old Cameron Wharf area is now the City of London Corporation Waste Transfer Station with barges mooring along side to take rubbish from the City to processing locations further down river.

Southbank Walk 19

Now walk under the new Millennium Bridge and slightly further up river you would have had this view in 1947. Puddle Dock is on the extreme left. St. Paul’s Cathedral is in the centre, partially obscured by the Faraday Building in Queen Victoria Street, one of the main London telephone exchanges. The height of the Faraday Building and the impact on views of St. Paul’s was one of the reasons for the planning regulations that now protect specific sight-lines and views of the cathedral.

The building and wharf of Blundell Spence & Co Ltd (manufacturers of Paints, Varnishes and Colours) is just below the Faraday Building, with the Cannon Warehouse and Showrooms to the right.

Southbank Walk 8

The view today. The Faraday Building is still the highest building between the cathedral and the river. The church on the right of centre in the 2016 photo is St. Benets Welsh Metropolitan Church. If you look in exactly the same position in the 1947 photo the spire above the tower of the church can be seen. The building on the right hand edge of the photo is the new site of the City of London School.Southbank Walk 20

Now passing under Blackfriars Bridge, walk along a bit further and look back at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In this 1947 view, on the left is the City of London School with the Unilever Building just behind.

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The same view today. The original building of the City of London School is still there, although the school moved out in 1987 to new buildings along Queen Victoria Street.

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Walk further along the south bank, almost to Waterloo Bridge and look back along the north bank of the river and this is the 1947 scene. The steeple of St. Brides church is on the extreme right. Also on the right of the photo on the embankment wall is the memorial commemorating the naming of this stretch of the river as King’s Reach after King George V.

The ship in the middle of the photo is the Discovery, Robert Falcon Scott’s original ship. She was moored here from 1931 to 1979. Having been fully restored, the Discovery is now moored in Dundee. During the war she was used by the Sea Scouts, of which my father was a member. His written account of life in London during this time includes accounts of staying on the Discovery and sailing up and down the Thames between Pimlico and Tower Bridge on an old whaler doing things that would be a nightmare for current health and safety.

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Roughly the current view, although not exactly the same viewpoint. The steeple of St. Brides church is still on the right, although as I could not get to exactly the same position, the Kings Reach memorial is now to the right of center.

The location of the Discovery is roughly at the position of the blue containers.

Southbank Walk 22

Much has changed along the Thames in the 69 years since my father took these photos, although some views are almost exactly the same. The following photo was taken close to Hungerford Railway Bridge. Cleopatra’s Needle is in the centre with the Shell-Mex building behind (the building with the clock). the Shell-Mex building was completed in 1931 and occupied by Shell Mex and BP Ltd. Although Shell have long since moved out, the building is Grade II listed so should be preserved as a major Thames landmark and an example of 1920s / 1930s architecture long into the future.

Southbank Walk 11

The same view today is almost unchanged, with the Adelphi on the left, then Shell-Mex House, the Savoy, then lower down, behind the trees the Institute of Electrical Engineers building, then Brettenham House and finally Somerset House on the extreme right of the photo.

I had intended to take this photo at the same time (2:50pm) as my father although due to taking too many photos along the walk I arrived slightly later at 3pm.

Southbank Walk 23

The final stop as we approach Westminster Bridge is the view across to the RAF memorial. The stone column was designed by Reginald Blomfield and the eagle on top of the memorial by William Reid Dick. The memorial was unveiled in 1923.

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The view to the memorial today. I should have been a bit further to the left, however the infrastructure around the base of the London Eye obscures the view. The significant change is the building behind the memorial. These are the main Ministry of Defence buildings. Construction of these started in 1939, although the war then caused significant delays with construction being completed in 1951.

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A boat trip or walk along the river is a fantastic way to view the city. Although there has been much development along the north bank over the years, it is surprising that whilst many of the buildings are different, the overall views are much the same. The most significant difference being the towers that now occupy much of the City.

Change along the south bank of the river and in the stretch between Tower Bridge and Greenwich has been much more dramatic and I will be covering these in future posts.

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Tower Bridge

A brief post today as unfortunately work commitments have been rather heavy over the past week. Here are three photos that my father took in 1948, the first two show the northern approach to Tower Bridge with the third showing the view across to the City from Tower Bridge. This last photo really makes you wonder how we plan the City and the buildings that tower over their surroundings.

Firstly, standing on the approach road to Tower Bridge. The Tower of London on the right. The cranes that still lined the river are visible to the left and right of the bridge. The sign on the left warns that heavy goods vehicles much cross the bridge at 8 miles per hour.

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68 years later and I am standing in roughly the same spot on a very sunny day – always a mistake due to the deep shadows. It should have been easy to locate the precise location, however I believe that the slip road to the left in the 1948 photo has been moved back, slightly further north.

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My 2016 photo also shows an empty road, a bit deceiving as I had to wait a lengthy period to get a clear road.

The next photo is a bit closer to the bridge.

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And in 2016.

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The photo below was taken from the bridge, looking over to the City of London. Look at the background and the church spires of the City churches are standing above their surroundings. To the left of centre, the Monument is standing clear and slightly to the left of the Monument, in the background, is the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It is low tide, and along the bank of the Thames is the artificial beach, with stairs down from the walkway alongside the Tower.

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And the same view in 2016. I did not time the tide right, but the beach and the stairs have long gone. If you look carefully, just to the right of the red cranes, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral can just be seen, with slightly further to the right, the very tip of the Monument.

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But what really intrudes into the 2016 view is the 20 Fenchurch Street building, better known as the Walkie Talkie building. Whilst the City cannot stay static, this building is just in the wrong place and the intrusive top-heavy design does not help.

I doubt that my father, standing on Tower Bridge and looking at the view over the City, would have imagined that it would look like this, 68 years later.

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A Temporary Wartime Chelsea Bridge

The bridges over the River Thames are key transport links between the north and south sides of the river and closure of any of the bridges can quickly lead to congestion during a busy London day. Today, any closures are normally for short periods of time, however during the last war there was a real risk that one or more of London’s bridges would be put out of action by bombing. Destruction of any of the bridges would quickly impact the day-to-day business of Londoners and would also cause problems for the emergency services and troop movements.

To help mitigate the impact of any damage to London’s bridges, a number of temporary bridges were constructed to provide alternative routes across the river. I featured the temporary bridge between Westminster and the Southbank in an earlier post, and whilst searching through my father’s photos I found a photo of one of the other bridges, the temporary Chelsea Bridge, this one providing a route across the Thames from Chelsea to Battersea Park and built across the river between the Albert and Chelsea Bridges.

The photo was taken in 1947 and shows the bridge in the final stages of demolition with only the centre box girder section in place, along with the full set of piers sunk into the river. One of the chimneys of Battersea Power Station can be seen to the left of the photo, and just to the left of the box girder section of the bridge is the blue gas holder at Battersea, a local landmark built in 1932 and finally removed in 2015.

Wartime Chelsea Bridge 1

The view from the same position in 2016.

Wartime Chelsea Bridge 2

Today, there are no remains of the bridge to be seen, which makes trying to locate the landing point of the bridge rather difficult and I have been unable to find the bridge marked on any maps from the period. Estimating the position from my father’s photo and looking at the roads in the area, I suspect that the bridge landed on the north bank on the Chelsea Embankment at the junction with Royal Hospital Road. The following map is from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London. The streets in this area of Chelsea are almost unchanged. I have marked where I believe the bridge crossed the river with a red dotted line.

Wartime Chelsea Bridge 5

One of the reasons why a temporary bridge was built in this location was a concern that German bombing would be aimed at the Chelsea Barracks (see top right of the 1940 map) and that the local bridges would also be targeted.

I took the photo below from the Chelsea Embankment looking north into the junction with Royal Hospital Road. It is here that I believe the bridge landed.

Wartime Chelsea Bridge 3

Both the Albert and Chelsea Bridges continued in full service during the war, so the temporary bridge was not needed, but it demonstrates the planning that was put in place to ensure that key transport routes would continue to be available, even if the main London bridges were put out of action.

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A Walk Along The Greenwich Peninsula

I have to blame a busy week at work for a different post this week to the one I had planned as I had hoped to visit a couple of locations for some research, so for this week’s post I would like to take you on a walk along the Greenwich Peninsula. It is rather brief, but does cover a fascinating part of London and one that is to see some significant change over the next few years.

London is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to photograph places and buildings before they change or disappear and the subject of this week’s post is an area I wish I had photographed before, I have walked the area but did not photograph, so this is very much a catch-up.

Greenwich is mainly known for the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark etc. however step a short distance away from these places and there are the remains of an industrial landscape that will soon be covered in the ubiquitous apartment buildings that can be seen across London, all basically to the same design and of the same materials.

As well as the apartment buildings, this area is also planned to be the site of a cruise ship terminal in the next few years, providing visitors with access to both Greenwich and central London.

The photos below come from a couple of last year’s walks from Greenwich to the O2 Dome. The area has a fascinating industrial history and for a very well researched book about the area I can highly recommend the book Innovation, Enterprise and Change on the Greenwich Peninsula by Mary Mills.

Starting from the Greenwich Pier, the view along the river gives an indication of what is to come with cranes in the distance towering above new construction work.

Greenwich Peninsula 1

Walking along the river path having passed the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College and along a side road, is the Trinity Hospital and Greenwich Power Station.

The Almshouses of Trinity Hospital have been on the site since the 17th century, but the current buildings are from the early 19th century. The adjacent power station was built at the start of the 20th century to power the London tram and underground network, however since the transfer of the power supply for the underground to the National Grid, the Greenwich Power Station retains a role as a backup generator.

Greenwich Peninsula 2

The river wall in front of the Almshouses records past levels of flooding.

The lower left plaque records the height of the tide on the 30th March 1874. The plaque on the right records “an extraordinary high tide” on January 7th 1928 when “75ft of this wall were demolished”.

The plaque at the top records that the wall was “erected and the piles fixed” in the year 1817.

Greenwich Peninsula 3

Walk along a bit further and it is possible to look back to the river wall in front of the Almshouses and see the remains of the original steps that led up from the river. A reminder of when the majority of travel to sites along the river would have been on the river.

Greenwich Peninsula 4

The original coal supplies for the power station came by river and the jetty remains, now unused as the limited amount of oil and gas needed for the power station in a standby role is delivered by road.

Greenwich Peninsula 27

The Britain From Above website has an excellent aerial photo of the power station in full operation in 1924. The almshouses can be seen to the left with their gardens running back in parallel to the power station. This is photo reference  EPW010754

EPW010754

Walk past the power station and the Cutty Sark pub (a good stop before setting off towards the Dome) and the building marked as the Harbour Masters Office is the last building before we come to what was the old industrial area and is now the subject of much redevelopment.

Greenwich Peninsula 5

Walk up a short ramp and this is the view. Whilst there is an urgent need for lots more housing in London, why do all apartment buildings have to look identical and obliterate any local character.

Greenwich Peninsula 6

There are the remains of a number of artworks along this stretch of the Thames. Here a line of clocks tied to fencing.

Greenwich Peninsula 28

Some parts of the walk are between fenced off industrial areas waiting for development. Indeed walking along the path you do get the feeling that the area is just waiting – the industry has gone, the new development has not yet started.

Greenwich Peninsula 8

Where the pathway runs along the river there are a surprising number of trees. Here an apple tree, intriguing to think that this could have grown from the seeds in an apple core thrown down by a long departed worked, or possibly washed down the Thames.

Greenwich Peninsula 9

One of the main industries along this stretch of the river was the manufacture of submarine communication cables which took place at Enderby Wharf and it is here that we can see the remains of some of this activity.

Here was manufactured the first cable to cross the Atlantic and up until the mid 1970s much of the world’s subsea communication cables had been manufactured here. The web site covering the history of the Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications has a detailed history of Enderby Wharf.

The two structures that can still be seen are part of the mechanism for transferring cable from the factory on the right to cable ships moored in the Thames to the left. Cable would be run across the walkway to the top of the tower on the right then to the round hold-back mechanism on the left then onto the ship.

Greenwich Peninsula 10

Again, the Britain from Above web site has a photo of the Enderby Wharf site which is in the middle of the photo. This is photo reference EAW002289

EAW002289

The following photo is why I wish I had taken photos along this stretch of the Thames some years ago. Hoardings now block of the factory site, but only the original Enderby House remains. This is a listed building, built around 1830, but looks to be in a process of slow decay. The Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications website has lots of detail on Enderby House and how the building has decayed.

All I can do now is climb on the river wall and try to look over the hoardings.

Greenwich Peninsula 11

Looking onto Enderby’s Wharf. Cable being run onto ships would have crossed directly above on its route from the factory.Greenwich Peninsula 12

How Barratt Homes plan to develop Enderby Wharf can be found here.

Look into the river and a set of steps running down into the Thames can be seen. These are the Enderby Wharf Ferry Steps. Whilst steps into the river have been here for many years, these steps are recent, having been installed in 2001.

Greenwich Peninsula 13

The plaque at the top of the steps.

Greenwich Peninsula 14

The plaque records that:

These steps originally gave access to the row boat and ferry man that ferried crew members between the shore and the cable ships anchored off-shore in the deeper central channel of the river.

They also pass alongside the Bendish Sluice, one of the four sluices established in the 17th century to draw off the water from the natural marshlands that constitute Greenwich Peninsula.

From the mid 1800’s until 1975 telegraph and latterly telephone cables have been manufactured at Enderby Wharf and were stored in vast tanks at the works which Alcatel now operate. These cables were loaded into the holds of ships while they lay anchored in the river. Cable produced at this site were used to establish the first links between England and France; the last cable made on the Greenwich site linked Venezuela with Spain.

Looking down the Enderby Wharf Ferry Steps:

Greenwich Peninsular 30

Another view of the cable transfer machinery.

Greenwich peninsula 15

Greenwich Peninsula 26It is in this area that the cruise terminal is planned to be built. The London City Cruise Port will be at Enderby Wharf and will allow mid-sized cruise ships to moor at a site with easy access to Greenwich and central London. I only hope that Enderby House, the original cable transfer machinery and the Enderby Wharf Steps are retained and protected.

A short distance past Enderby Wharf is Tunnel Wharf.

Greenwich Peninsula 16

And the hoardings continue to fence off the areas waiting for redevelopment. This is Morden Wharf.

Greenwich peninsula 17

Parts of the path seem to have a distinctly rural quality with trees lining the slopping river bank down into the Thames.

Greenwich Peninsula 18

But the remains of old industrial areas soon return. London will soon be losing the majority of the old gas holders that were once major landmarks across the city. I do not know if this large gas holder on the Greenwich Peninsula is protected, I suspect not.

Greenwich peninsula 19

Walking past the area where some of the river’s shipping is maintained in a row of dry docks.

Greenwich Peninsula 20

Looking across from the river path to the Dome, with the grade 2 listed entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel.

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The final stretch of the river walk before reaching the new developments around the O2 also have an air of waiting for a different use.

A large site is used for the storage and processing of aggregates that arrive by barge along the river.

Greenwich peninsula 22

Greenwich Peninsula 23

And then we reach the area leading up to the Dome consisting of a golf driving range:

Greenwich Peninsula 24

And another building site and behind, a building that I cannot understand how an architect thought would be a good design for this location.

Greenwich Peninsula 25

The Greenwich Peninsula has not attracted the same attention as much of the recent development in central London, however it is an area that will be changing dramatically over the next few years as stretches of almost identical glass and steel buildings run further along the river.

Now where to photograph next in a continually changing city?

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The Massey Shaw Fireboat – On The River Thames, 29th December 2015

The weather in December seemed to be an endless run of overcast days and rain and in the run up to the 29th December 2015, I was checking the weather forecast on a daily basis and much to my surprise the forecast looked to be gradually improving with finally a sunny day forecast along with this December’s unusually very mild temperatures.

When the day arrived, and as the last of the overnight rain cleared, I made my way to the Isle of Dogs on a very quiet Underground and Docklands Light Railway, reaching South Quay just as the first hint of the dawn sun broke the dark of night.

The Massey Shaw fireboat is moored in the South Dock on the edge of the main Canary Wharf office complex. The plan for the day was to leave South Dock after nine and then travel up to central London to carry out some demonstrations of the Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capabilities during the early afternoon as part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the 29th December 1940.

With the original 1935 engines running, and the expert volunteer crew having run through the process of preparing the boat for the day, pulling up the anodes, lifting the fenders and casting off the ropes, the Massey Shaw edged out into the South Dock as the December sun lit up the buildings of Canary Wharf.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 1

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew’s Atlas of Greater London has the mooring position of the Massey Shaw highlighted with an arrow and shows the entrance to the Thames through the locks at the South Dock entrance which is still the route through to the river.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 37

The locks are essential to maintain the water level in the docks whilst the height of the river fluctuates with the tides. At the time we left it was low tide so whilst the Massey Shaw waited in the lock, the water level dropped as water drained out into the river.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 2

With the level of the water within the lock having dropped to that of the river, the lock gates start to open and the River Thames opens up.

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Leaving the lock. It was fascinating to think of all the ships that have passed through this entrance coming from, and departing to, the rest of the world when these docks were in use.

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Moving out into the river. The weak December sunshine was a very welcome sight.

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Passing Greenwich.

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The route into London gave me an opportunity to learn more about the history of the Massey Shaw and how the boat steers and handles on the river and we had soon passed through central London, and reached Lambeth, opposite the old headquarters of the London Fire Service. Turning round, it was now the run back to the City and demonstration of Massey Shaw’s fire fighting capability.

Passing under Lambeth Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 38

The London Eye.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 39

Approaching Hungerford Bridge, it was time to test the Monitor. The Monitor is the steerable, high pressure jet which is a permanent fixture on deck. Additional water jets and hoses can be connected to the outlets running along the edge of deck, dependent on the type of fire.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 7

Switching one of the engines to power one of the water pumps results in a high pressure jet which can easily be directed towards a fire.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 8

The pressure of the jet is such that it was used not only to pour water onto a fire, but also to knock down walls where these had been left in a dangerous condition, or to provide a firebreak between buildings to prevent a fire spreading. Coming up to Southwark Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 9

The monitor can be positioned at a high angle with the jet then able to reach the upper floors of the warehouses bordering the Thames, or onto ships.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 10

The Massey Shaw then carried out the first demonstration in front of the location of Dowgate Fire Station, however the light was much better for the second demonstration so I will cover later in the post.

After the first demonstration it was back to moor on a swinging mooring at Bankside with the weather continuing to improve.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 11

Passing under the Millennium Bridge provided a unique view of this foot bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 12

A good opportunity to enjoy the river and city in late December sunshine.

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A visit by the RNLI Tower lifeboat.

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The RNLI depart.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 40

Now heading back to the second demonstration, powering up and testing the water jet whilst passing Queenhithe. The attention to detail during the restoration was such that although a post war wheelhouse has been added, the lifebuoy is in the same position as when the Massey Shaw was operational – see the photos from the 2nd World War in yesterday’s post.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 15

Standing off the location of Dowgate Fire Station, and adjacent to the railway bridge into Cannon Street station, the Massey Shaw gave the main display using her on deck Monitor.

The Merryweather pumps on the Massey Shaw are each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through the main Monitor and the other deck outlets. This equates to an incredible 11 tons of water an hour.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 16

The following video shows the Massey Shaw in action.

Although the many warehouses that ran along the Thames have long since disappeared, the river edge continues to be populated with buildings that edge directly onto the river. These buildings, along with the many different types of craft that continue to travel along the river require the ongoing support of a Fire Service that can approach a fire from the river and support their land based colleagues, as well as providing rescue services on the river.

As part of the commemorations on the 29th December 2015, the Fire Dart, one of the fire boats currently in service with the London Fire Brigade arrived to demonstrate current fire fighting capabilities.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 17

Although of a very different design and using completely different construction materials, the function is basically the same – pump large volumes of water from the river at high pressure onto a fire.

Note also the very different uniforms of the crew compared to the wartime Massey Shaw (see yesterday’s post) where today life saving and protection from water and the elements are essential functions of the clothing worn by the crew. Comparing the uniforms of today with that of the men who fought fires during the war or sailed to Dunkirk in what appears to be have been little more than a thick jacket and trousers and a flat hat only adds to my admiration of these early fire fighters.

The Fire Dart, one of two current London Fire Brigade fire boats based at Lambeth at the river fire station demonstrating the use of their water jet.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 18

The main monitor on the Fire Dart is more flexible than that on the Massey Shaw in terms of the type of water jet that can be swiftly delivered. The jet can be quickly changed from delivering a single high pressure jet for force and distance, through to a cloud of water spray.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 19

The Fire Dart in front of London Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 20

Watching the Fire Dart run through its demonstration.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 21

Now both the Massey Shaw and the Fire Dart run up their main deck Monitors.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 22

The two jets at full pressure. Although the Fire Dart has more flexibility in how the water jet can be configured, the Massey Shaw jet appeared to be capable of slightly higher pressure, reaching higher than the Fire Dart.

Amazing to see two fire boats in actions, although 80 years separate their design, construction and materials, they are still performing the same basic function.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 24

The Fire Dart having finished demonstrating 2015 fire fighting capabilities, now heading back to Lambeth.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 25

It was then time to head back to the Isle of Dogs and enjoy the river and views of London on a very mild December afternoon.

Passing HMS Belfast on the river in a relatively low craft gives an appreciation of the size of the Belfast not always appreciated from the shore. It also gives an indication of what it must have been like to approach a large cargo ship in difficulties or on fire in the much smaller Massey Shaw.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 26

Approaching Tower Bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 27

Looking down the river towards Rotherhithe.

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And a final view back towards the City.

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Passing Greenwich and approaching Greenwich Power Station.

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Running between the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsula. I could not quite believe that this was late December.

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The flag of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

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All too soon we had returned to the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. Since departing, the tide had risen and there was some discussion as to whether the Massey Shaw would fit under the bridge, even with the mast on the wheel house lowered.

Although the bridge states West India Dock, as can be seen from the 1940 map shown at the start of this post, this is the entrance to the South Dock, with the West India Docks (import and export) being the two more northerly docks, although they are interconnected. Manchester Road is the road passing over this bridge.

Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 34

In the end, the safest decision was to raise the bridge to allow the Massey Shaw to enter the lock without any risk.Massey Shaw 29th December 2015 - 35

It was a remarkable day out and hopefully a fitting tribute to those who worked on the Massey Shaw on the 29th December 1940.

The attention to detail during the restoration means that being on, and seeing the Massey Shaw in action is as close to experiencing the fireboat as it would have been in 1940 as it is possible to get.

It was a fantastic experience on a mild and calm sunny day, but consider what it must have been like for fire fighters on the boat on a cold winters night, soaked by the mist from the water jets, fighting fires as the City continued to be bombed with smoke and burning embers being blown across the river.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for the day, and to the whole volunteer crew who provided a wealth of information on the history of the Massey Shaw and the operation of the boat.

I hope that yesterday and today’s posts have provided some insight into this historic craft.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here for more details of events and how to support this remarkable craft.

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The Massey Shaw Fireboat – A Brief History

Last Tuesday, the 29th December 2015, was the 75th anniversary of one of the heaviest attacks on London during the 2nd World War. I featured this event last year in a post on the 29th December along with one on the St. Paul’s Watch, whose actions contributed to the preservation of the Cathedral when large areas of the rest of the City were destroyed by incendiary bombs.

Along with the St. Paul’s Watch, the Fire Services worked throughout the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940 to prevent the many fires from spreading and to gradually bring them under control. The Fire Services worked at considerable danger from falling bombs, collapsing buildings and the risk of being cut off by rapidly spreading fires.

Through the night of the 29th December 1940 the availability of water was a problem. Bombing destroyed water mains and the many pumps drawing water from the working water mains considerably reduced the water pressure.

Hundreds of land based pumps were used and to help with the provision of supplies of water, the London Fire Service’s Fireboats were used to pump water from the Thames ashore.

To commemorate the events of the 29th December 1940 and the bravery of the Fire Services a number of events were held in the City of London last Tuesday, including displays of Fire Engines from the time, and a procession of Fire Engines through the City at the same time as  the sounding of the original air raid sirens in 1940.

As well as the displays on land, the Massey Shaw, the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War put on a display on the Thames by the bridge into Cannon Street Station and Dowgate Fire Station.

I was very fortunate to be on board the Massey Shaw for the day’s events and for this weekend I have two posts about this remarkable vessel. Today, providing a brief history of the Massey Shaw and tomorrow the voyage out on the 29th December 2015.

The Massey Shaw was one of several fireboats constructed to broadly the same design for the London Fire Brigade, with the Massey Shaw being completed by J. Samuel White & Co at Cowes on the Isle of Wight on 1935. Such was their importance that in 1939, with the war looming, the London County Council placed an order for twenty Fire Boats which all saw action along the length of the Thames, including one being sunk by a bomb at Thames Haven.

Named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the first chief fire officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (from 1861 to 1891), the Massey Shaw was designed with a shallow draught to allow access along the Thames, under bridges and into the creeks feeding into the river at nearly all states of tide.

The following photo shows the Massey Shaw along with two other fireboats in the Thames at Lambeth in front of the headquarters of the London Fire Brigade. Their low design ensures they can pass under bridges in almost all states of the tide.

Massey Shaw History 1

Fireboats were an essential tool in the ability of the Fire Services to fight fires on and along the river. In 1935 the banks of the Thames was still occupied by large numbers of warehouses storing vast amounts of combustible materials and often access from the river was the only means of fighting fires in these warehouses, and the river also provided a readily available source of water.

Large numbers of ships carrying all types of cargo also presented a fire risk both along the Thames and when moored up in the Docks and along the river edge.

The Massey Shaw was equipped with two, 8-cylinder diesel engines which would either drive the boat, or could be switched over to power two Merryweather centrifugal pumps each capable of pumping 1,500 gallons of water per minute through to the deck fire fighting equipment.

On deck was a large 3-inch Monitor (a steerable, high pressure water jet) along with banks of water outlets on either side of the deck which could be used to set up additional high pressure water jets, or to pump water from the river to land.

It was the ability to pump water from the Thames through hoses to land which was of such importance on the night of the 29th December 1940. Not only was there limited water available from water mains, but it was also a low tide so access to water from the banks of the river was difficult. Having a Fireboat which could moor in water and pump to shore was essential in fighting fires on the night and protecting St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The Massey Shaw was one of several boats that pumped water from the Thames to the streets of the City on the night of the 29th / 30th December 1940.

The following photo shows how hoses would be rowed ashore to connect to hoses run along the streets providing additional supplies, or to replace water from the water mains. It is interesting to see in this picture that land based firemen would have the traditional helmet and the firemen on the fireboats would have flat hats which would have provided very little protection.

Massey Shaw History 5

The Massey Shaw could also moor along side and deliver water as shown in the following photo taken at Westminster Pier.

Massey Shaw History 2

War service for the Massey Shaw started before the bombing of London as the Massey Shaw was one of the little ships that played such a key role in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The intention was originally for the Massey Shaw to fight fires at Dunkirk, however on arrival she was put to use ferrying troops from the beaches out to waiting ships, her shallow draft enabling the Massey Shaw to approach much closer to the waiting troops in Dunkirk harbour and the beaches.

The Massey Shaw made three round trips from Ramsgate to Dunkirk bringing back 110 troops in addition to those that she had ferried out to the larger shipping.

The book “Fire Service Memories” by Sir Aylmer Firebrace includes an account of the Dunkirk operation:

“Here, in its chronological position is a brief account of ‘excursion to hell’ (to use Mr J.B. Priestley’s graphic phrase) of the fire boat Massey Shaw, in which she played a gallant part in rescuing, from under the noses of dive-bombing Stukas, some of the 300,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force who were patiently and perilously waiting on the Dunkirk beaches.

The Massey Shaw, with a volunteer amateur pilot on board, arrived at Ramsgate on 31st May 1940. She made three trips to Dunkirk, bringing ninety-six men back on board and transferring five hundred others to larger vessels. It is believed that she was the last of the small boats to leave Dunkirk harbour. Whilst troops, British and French, were being taken off the beaches, heavy bombing was proceeding, air battles were being fought overhead, and the whole coast for many miles presented a panorama of raging fire and sullen smoke.

The embarkation bristled with difficulties; always there was the imminent danger of the fire boat going aground, and so becoming a total loss. The Dunkirk task completed, the Massey Shaw was on her way back to London, when, only two hundred yards away from her, the Emile de Champs, a French auxiliary vessel, struck a mine and sank within two minutes. Forty survivors, many of them in need of immediate attention, were picked up and transferred to H.M.S. Albury, a mine sweeper 

Vice-Admiral Sir Bertam Ramsey, K.C.B., Flag Officer commanding Dover wrote in the London Gazette of 17th July 1947:

‘Of the civilian-manned craft one of the best performances was that of the London Fire Brigade fire boat, Massey Shaw. All the volunteer crew were members of the London Fire Brigade or Auxiliary Fire Service, and they succeeded in doing three round trips to the beaches in their well-found craft'”

The Massey Shaw returns from Dunkirk on the 4th June, 1940.

Massey Shaw History 17

The Massey Shaw taking a fast ruin along the Thames. Greenwich Power Station is to the left.

Massey Shaw History 3Another photo of the Massey Shaw. The layout of the boat is much the same today, the only significant difference being the open steering position was replaced after the war by an enclosed wheel house.

Massey Shaw History 4The Massey Shaw fighting a warehouse fire using the main Monitor to fire a high pressure water jet. This photo illustrates how a river based craft can be far more effective at fighting fires along the river edge. Fully self contained and floating on an unlimited supply of water, the fire boat was a highly effective machine for fighting this type of fire.

Massey Shaw History 7

The Massey Shaw continued in operational service until being decommissioned in 1971. Left to gradually deteriorate in St. Katherine Docks, the Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Trust was formed to rescue and preserve the boat.

A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled a full restoration to be carried out in 2012/13 and the Massey Shaw is now back to a fully operational status, with the majority of the boat still being of the original materials and construction.

The current mooring position of the Massey Shaw is in the South Dock on the Isle of Dogs. The following photo taken before setting out shows the deck of the Massey Shaw with the main water outlets.

Massey Shaw History 13

The permanent main Monitor is in the centre, just in front of the wheel house.

On both sides of the deck are four banks of deck connections with the outlets painted red. These are to provide water supplies for additional Monitors on the boat, or to connect hoses to provide a water supply to the shore.

The deck connections with the outlets painted black are for salvage work as the Massey Shaw also has the ability to suck water out of a stricken vessel.

The windows in the foreground provide light into the engine room directly below and can be opened to provide ventilation.

The following photo shows all the deck outlets in use to provide an additional 8 Monitors along the side of the boat.

Massey Shaw History 6The Massey Shaw continues to be powered by the two original diesel engines. Under normal operation, these both drive the boat at a full speed of up to 12 knots.

When fighting a fire, one engine would be switched to pump water with the remaining engine providing power to hold the boat in position. If the boat could be moored or anchored then both engines would be switched to pumping water enabling all the deck outlets to be used.

The engine room with the engines in magnificent condition after restoration.

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Indicator dials showing the vacuum created by the pumps when suction was needed to pump water from a vessel during salvage, and also the pressure in pounds per inch of the pump when supplying water.

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The heavy pipework and controls needed to transport the water under high pressure from the pumps to the deck.

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Working in the engine room with all engines and pumps working flat out was very noisy. Ear protectors are an essential aid, although nothing like these would have been in use in the 1940s.

Massey Shaw History 15

Signalling between the wheel house and the engine room continues to use the original system of bells and dials to indicate to the engineer in the engine room what power and direction is required from the  engines.

Massey Shaw History 9

The experience of being on the Massey Shaw along the Thames highlighted the considerable skill required to control the boat.

Whilst the shallow draft is excellent for navigating shallow water, it also reduces the water resistance so any wind has more of an impact. Due to the size of the boat and limited rudder size, there is a delay between turning the wheel and the boat starting to turn, and as the Captain does not have direct control of engine power, there is a further delay between requesting a change in power and the engines responding.

Keeping in position when fighting a large warehouse fire or manoeuvring in the Dunkirk harbour whilst under attack would have required a considerable amount of skill and experience.

The original indicator panel in the engine room showing the status of the navigation lights made by Siemens Brothers of London.

Massey Shaw History 10

The crew cabin of the Massey Shaw has a number of commemorative plaques as shown in the photo below.

The large plaque at the top was made just after Dunkirk, and the plaque below this details the names of the crew of the Massey Shaw at the time of Dunkirk.

Surrounding these are plaques presented to the Massey Shaw for the various commemoration visits to Dunkirk. The round plaque to the left commemorates the 2015 visit to Dunkirk on the 75th anniversary.

Massey Shaw History 12

As the last remaining fireboat from the 2nd World War, the Massey Shaw is a very graphic reminder of the engineering used at the time and the bravery of the crews who manned these boats that were so critical to the protection of London.

To have the Massey Shaw in a museum would be good, but to have the boat as a fully working craft able to demonstrate how fire boats operated at the time is remarkable.

My thanks to the Massey Shaw Education Trust for much of the information and photos used in this article (although any errors in recording this information are my responsibility). Other sources of information include the book Fire Service Memories by Sir Aylmer Firebrace published in 1949, which is highly recommended for an in depth account of the fire services up to and including the 2nd World War.

The web site of the Massey Shaw Education Trust can be found here and provides further information on the history, restoration and current operations of the Massey Shaw.

Join me in tomorrow’s post for a trip down the Thames on the Massey Shaw and a demonstration of fire fighting capabilities from both 1940 and 2015.

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The Disappearing Cannon At The Tower of London

Walking around London it is easy to see many of the major changes to the city. The constant building, new towers adding to the skyline, however sometimes small changes can go unnoticed although they still have a profound impact on the character of an area and memories of the past.

One such change is the disappearance of the cannon that once lined the walkway running along the River Thames in front of the Tower of London.

I had not really noticed how much had changed until I was looking through some of my father’s photos and found the three photos from 1947 that I feature this week.

In the first, a range of cannon lined the river. I remember these from childhood walks and school visits, and for years before they had been a feature that no visit could ever have been complete without climbing one of these cannon.

Tower of London Cannons 3

I walked down to the Tower one recent Sunday to see how much had changed. The weather was dull and rain was expected, so the lighting was not that good. The following photo is my 2015 photo from roughly the same position. The majority of the cannon have been removed, although a couple remain, looking rather sad up against the approach to Tower Bridge at the far end of the photo.

Tower of London Cannons 5

I do not know when they were removed or why, I can only guess. Perhaps health and safety considerations, although falling was an accepted risk of climbing anything as a boy. An understandable reason could have been damage to the cannon. Making more space in this area is possible as it really does get crowded at the peak of the tourist season. Or perhaps the fact that they all seemed to be pointing directly at City Hall on the south bank of the river may have made certain occupants rather nervous.

What ever the reason it is a loss of some of the character of the place.

Standing at this point, it is fascinating to consider the incredible amount of change that the Tower of London has seen during the centuries. Just in the last 70 years the changes have been remarkable.

Whilst here, my father also took the following photo. I do not think this was to capture the south bank of the river as the warehouses must have seemed a rather fixed feature of day to day London activity, rather it was probably to photo the ship that was about to pass under Tower Bridge.

What the photo does show is the amount of change along this part of the river, which in 1947 still consisted of rows of cranes and their associated warehouses along with a steady stream of cargo ships mooring alongside. The warehouses on the left of the photo are the ones that lined Pickle Herring Street which I featured here.

Tower of London Cannons 2

The following photo shows the same scene today. I was able to position the photo accurately using Southwark Cathedral. If you look to the far right of both photos, you can just see the four spires on the top of the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

I doubt that anyone looking across at this view in 1947 would have expected this scene to host Europe’s tallest building in the decades to come.

Tower of London Cannons 4

The next photo my father took followed the ship as it passed under Tower Bridge.

Tower of London Cannons 1

It was just about to pour with rain when I took the following photo so the lighting is very poor. Apart from the missing cannon, the scene is much the same today. The top of the old Anchor Brewery building behind the southern approach to Tower Bridge provides a convenient reference point to get the right position for the 2015 photo.

Tower of London Cannons 6

The walk between the Tower of London and the River Thames is still a great place to watch activity on the river and the view along the south bank, however with the removal of the cannon it has lost some of its character and childhood memories.

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