Tag Archives: Greenwich

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The plaque at the top of the steps.

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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:

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Another view of the cable transfer machinery.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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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London Postcards

Back in August, I published a number of London Postcards showing the city during the first decades of the 20th Century. For this week’s post I have another series of postcards from the same time period.

I find these fascinating as they show many different aspects of London and provide a tangible link with those who lived in, or were visiting London.

The first postcard is of a very wintry Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Taken at a time when this was still a working observatory. Very rare to see such snowfall in London today.

The postcard was posted at a very different time of year to the pictured scene, on the 31st August 1905. With a Greenwich postmark, posted to a child in Lowestoft with a birthday wish from his aunt and uncle.

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As well as scenic views, early postcards are also populated by Londoners. This postcard shows Covent Garden with some fantastic detail of a very busy street scene. This was at a time when wearing a hat was almost mandatory, with the type of hat indicating your position in the social structure of the day. The scene is also piled high with baskets ready to transport goods to and from the market.

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The following postcard shows Regent Street at a time when almost all shops had awnings or shop blinds. The shop on the right is the London Stereoscopic Company. Formed during the 1850s, the company started selling stereoscopic photos and viewers and then went into the general photographic business selling cameras, photographic paper and other photography supplies. The company lasted until 1922.

The bus in the foreground is the number 13 covering Finchley Road, Baker Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross and Fleet Street. The number 13 bus route today covers many of the same locations.

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Another street scene, this time Holborn (posted on the 18th September 1913).

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All these photos show the main street lamps on islands in the centre of the road. When electric lighting was introduced to the streets of London, the centre of the road was found to be the best location to spread light across both sides of the road. These lighting islands also had other benefits. A report presented to the Vestry of St. Pancras in 1891 covering the use of public lighting by electricity claimed that one advantage of central street lighting in busy thoroughfares is that they regulate the traffic. The report stated:

“Your committee are informed that the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police has suggested that there ought to be a rest at that point to prevent the numerous stoppages and accidents that occur there. The Police seem to be strongly of the opinion that the fixing of rests assists very materially in the regulation of the traffic, and your Committee feel therefore that although at first sight many people may think the lighting from the centre of the road would tend to obstruction, it really assists in facilitating the traffic and preventing obstruction in crowded thorough-fares.”

“Rests” refers to the islands built in the centre of the road where a street lamp could be installed and protected from traffic. They also provided a safe stopping point, or rest, for pedestrians trying to cross the road. The report was written as part of the planning for the installation of electric arc lamps in Tottenham Court Road. The following postcard shows Tottenham Court Road taken looking north from the junction with Charing Cross Road. The buildings on the left, along with the pub are still there.

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The above postcard was sent by a visitor to London from North Wales who “has been seeing the sights and are now going to the zoo.”

Perhaps one of those sights was Leicester Square, much quieter than it is today, possibly a weekend in winter when sitting in, or running through the square was the ideal way to pass the afternoon. The building in the background with the large flag is the original Empire Theatre. Opened in 1884 and demolished in 1927.

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It was not just central London locations that were popular subjects for postcards. The following card, postmarked 1912, shows Clapham Junction. Although the type of traffic has changed, the scene looks remarkably similar today, although the Arding and Hobbs department store on the corner is now a Debenhams.

The sender of the card wrote “On back is the new Arding & Hobbs. Old building burnt down a few years ago.” The new building shown in the postcard was completed in 1910.

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At first glance, the following photo looks to be of Charing Cross Station, although, as the name across the building confirms, it is the original Cannon Street Hotel, forming the entrance to Cannon Street Station.

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To show how similar they are, the following shows Charing Cross Station. This is no coincidence as they were both designed by Edward Middleton Barry who also designed the replica Queen Eleanor Cross which stands in the forecourt of the station. The hotel at Cannon Street has long gone, and the station entrance now looks very different. Charing Cross provides a physical reminder of what once stood in Cannon Street.

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The next postcard is of the Monument, however what I find more interesting about the scene are the people, and also the large amount of advertising on the building to the left. The postcard was posted at the station at Walton on Thames by someone who had just moved into a new house in Weybridge. Perhaps a City worker who had bought the postcard in London.

Postcards from London 2 6The posters include adverts for, Nestles Swiss Milk, Bass beer, the Royal Military Tournament, Regie Cigarettes, Allsopp’s Lager and Triscuit, which if it is the same thing is a cracker produced in America and is still in production today. The building on the corner on the right is the Monument Tavern.

London’s bridges have always been popular subjects for postcards, and the following view is of London Bridge. The bridge shown is that designed by John Rennie and opened in 1831. It was sold in 1968 to make way for the current London Bridge and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Both the buildings on either side of the end of the bridge are still there, Adelaide House on the right and Fishmongers Hall on the left.

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And the following postcard shows Blackfriars Bridge. The large curved building at the left of the bridge is De Keyser’s Royal Hotel which was opened on the 5th September 1874 by Sir Polydore de Keyser who came to London as a waiter from Belgium and eventually became Lord Mayor of London. The Uniliver building is now on this site.

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The following postcard is titled “The Hanging Gardens of London, Selfridges Water Gardens Looking West”. The roof of the Oxford Street department store, Selfridges, had gardens and cafes during the 1920s and 30s and were a popular location after shopping. The roof gardens were damaged during the last war and never reopened.

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The following postcard shows the London County Council Millbank Estate, and judging by the condition of the streets, this must be soon after construction of the estate finished in 1902. The building halfway down the road on the left is a school. The estate and the school are still in existence and the buildings today look much the same although there is now parking lining most of these streets. The Milbank Estate is Grade II listed. The people in the photo are probably some of the first occupants of the estate.

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Although the Tower of London is the subject of the following postcard, I find the background of more interest as it shows London when the height of buildings was relatively low compared to the City we see today. This postcard has a 1931 postmark and was sent to Belgium by a visitor to London.

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The following photo taken from Bankside shows the north bank of the river with the original wharfs.

Paul’s Wharf in the centre with St. Paul’s Pier in front, the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company (the smaller building towards the right with the white upper part), and Trig Wharf to the right. The Millennium Bridge now crosses the river here, roughly at the site of the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company.  The Bankside location has always provided a superb view across the river and has a fascinating history which I wrote about here, mainly involving the transport of coal and other goods on the river hence the lighters on the river in the foreground.

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In the days before the personal ownership of portable cameras, postcards were about the only means of sending a message showing where the author lived or was visiting and as such they provide a fascinating insight into early 20th century London.

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From The City To The Sea – The Thames At Night

I have now reached the final stage of my journey on the Thames, a return to central London.

As darkness falls, the Thames takes on a new personae. It is very difficult to make out the twists and turns of the river, the water now appears very dark and merges with the night sky. The bank of the river before reaching central London has pools of highly lit factories and buildings with long gaps of darkness in between.

The river is also very silent.

Darkness started to fall on leaving Gravesend, and before we look at the river, a quick video of the Waverley.

The Paddle Steamer Waverley is a perfectly restored example of the type of passenger boat that would have been seen on the Thames. The industrial heritage of the Waverley is very important and it is the last sea going example of this type of craft.

It is beautifully maintained and derives a substantial amount of the funding needed for maintenance through these trips.

The engine room is the heart of the Waverley, generating the power to drive the paddles through the water.The following video starts with the engine room at rest whilst the Waverley is moored at Gravesend, then watch as the bells signal departure and the engines power up to start the Waverley’s journey back to Tower Pier.

 

Now for the run into London. Taking photos after dark using a handheld camera on a moving boat is rather a challenge. Much of the river was too dark, however the following provide a view of the river using a sample of the photos that worked.

Dusk starts to fall as the Waverley departs Gravesend. We can now see how the river turns and some of the hazards. The Queen Elizabeth Bridge is in the distance, in the centre of the photo, however the river turns to the left to approach the bridge. On the land jutting out from the left is the Broadness lighthouse as when darkness falls, and without this lighthouse there are no other lights on this spit of land and without the lighthouse a boat could try and aim direct for the bridge.

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A close up of the Broadness lighthouse. At high tide the land is submerged leaving only the lighthouse and the access walkway hovering above the water. A real hazard if it were not for the warning light.

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The industrial sites down the river look very different at night.

Thames at Night 2

Getting closer to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge with the Stoneness Lighthouse on the right.

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Having navigated the bends in the river, now heading straight to the bridge.

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Ships along the river provide pools of light on the dark water.

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Passing under the bridge. The two conical structures on the river bank to the right of the bridge are air vents of the two tunnels that also carry traffic under the Thames at this point.

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The Archer, Daniels, Midland Erith Ltd oil processing plant looks very different on the way back than on the way out.

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Now approaching the Thames Barrier. Each of the piers is lit up, I suspect not because they look good, but to ensure that each of the piers is very visible to shipping.

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About to pass through the barrier. Green direction arrows clearly point to the channel that should be used to navigate through the barrier.

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Passing through the barrier.

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Through the barrier and the banks of the river now start to light up with the clouds reflecting the lighting from below. Here, Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena are on the left and the Emirates Air Line crosses the river directly in front. Each pod being lit with a red light. It was fascinating to watch the red lights cross the river on the approach.

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Up close to one of the towers supporting the Air Line with the O2 Arena in the background.

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Passing the O2 Arena:

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With Canary Wharf in the background.

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A final view of the O2 Arena. The upturned electricity tower can be seen to the right (an art installation by Sculptor Alex Chinneck, commissioned for this year’s London Design Festival, aiming to celebrate the industrial history of the site)

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Passing along the Greenwich Peninsula, the Meridian Laser comes into view. The laser is located below the Airy Transit Circle in the Royal Observatory to ensure it is directly on the meridian line. Under ideal conditions and being in the right position, the laser should be visible more than 60 miles from Greenwich.

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Passing Greenwich and the masts of the Cutty Sark along with the lights of the Greenwich Pier come into view.

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The lighting provides a rather ghostly appearance to the Cutty Sark.

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Passing Greenwich and here is the entrance to Deptford Creek. The new bridge standards out more than during the day thanks to the lighting running across the bridge. This is the new bridge that pivots on the left bank so that it can rotate into the Thames allowing ships to enter and exit the creek.

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Passing along the Isle of Dogs. The brilliant lighting of Canary Wharf with the less intense lights of the homes along the river bank.

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Continuing pass the Isle of Dogs.

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The river is very quiet at night with very little activity. One exception are the party boats that come out at night providing a passing pool of light and noise before the river returns to silence.

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The brilliant lighting of Canary Wharf.

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On the final stretch of the river into the city, Tower Bridge appears. On the right are the outlines of the historic vessels moored at the Heritage Community Moorings.

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Now heading towards Tower Bridge. Looks as if they have not replaced the bulb on the right hand tower.

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Getting close as the bridge starts to rise. Also, the red warning lights from the top of the many cranes across the city.

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Nearly fully open with the Walkie Talkie peering in from the right.

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And the Shard on the left.Thames at Night 27

About to pass under Tower Bridge.

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Through Tower Bridge and about to berth on Tower Pier. HMS Belfast is on the left along with the visiting research ship, the RRS Discovery moored along side.

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The River Thames is a fascinating river. It is London’s river and it is remarkable to consider the number of people who have made the same journey over the centuries, and where they were leaving to, or arriving from.

As with London, change is a constant along the river. What can be expected in the future? Certainly the endless march of apartment buildings along the river bank. Within the next few years these will probably have run from Greenwich to the O2 Arena.

Possibly more bridges and / or tunnels as there always seems to be a constant stream of proposals for new bridges to the east of London, although so far none seemed to have got past the concept stage. The latest scheme is for a tunnel at Silvertown, the proposals for this tunnel are currently open for consultation.

The new docks at the London Gateway may well expand, will this impact Tilbury?

Will the Thames Hub / Estuary Airport go ahead despite the majority of expert opinion apparently being against an airport in this location.

It would be good to see more traffic on the Thames, there does seem to be a gradual growth in passenger traffic on the river.

To take a look at the Thames from City to Sea, the Paddle Steamer Waverley is planning to run trips along the Thames next year. I will certainly be taking another trip.

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From The City To The Sea – Greenwich To Barking Creek

The next stage of the journey from the City of London to the Sea is from Greenwich to Barking Creek. This stretch of the river has lost a considerable amount of industrial and dock activity over the last 50 years. On the south bank of the river, the Greenwich Peninsula is the location of the Millennium Dome or as it is now called, the O2 Arena which, until recent years, was the only significant redevelopment on this stretch of the river, however the race to develop riverside apartment buildings is now extending down river from Greenwich.

The north bank has seen development along the Isle of Dogs with both residential and office buildings running up to Blackwall.

After leaving the Cutty Sark and the old Royal Naval College behind, there is an industrial intruder. The Greenwich Power Station was built between 1902 and 1910 to provide power (along with the Lots Road power station in Chelsea) for the London Tram and Underground networks. London Underground switched to the National Grid for power in 1998 since when Greenwich Power Station has held the role of a provider of emergency power to the London Underground. Initially coal fired, with the coal being delivered to the jetties on the river, the power station is now oil fired. There are plans to install new gas powered generators so the power station will remain a landmark on the Greenwich river bank for decades to come.

The white building in the shadow of the power station to the right, is the Grade 2 listed Trinity Hospital. Built between 1613 and 1617 with later additions and alterations (mainly from 1812), the building of these almshouses was funded by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton.

Although not a member, the Earl of Northampton entrusted the management of the almshouses to the Mercers Company, who continue running the charity responsible for the almshouses to this day.Greenwich to Barking 1

A short walk along the Thames from Greenwich Power Station is the Cutty Sark pub, a perfect place to sit outside and watch the river.

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A short distance along the Greenwich Peninsula is Enderby’s Wharf, the latest housing development which I suspect will soon be replicated all the way to the O2. Enderby’s Wharf has an important industrial heritage. The wharf takes the name from Samual Enderby & Sons, a whaling company who developed the site. It was later the site of the company Glass, Elliot & Co, who built submarine cables at the site which were loaded onto cable ships from the wharf.

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Part of the original equipment that carried cable from the factory, across to be loaded on the ships moored at the wharf remains at the site and can be seen in the photo below in front of the yellow crane.

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Adjacent to Enderby Wharf is Morden Wharf, having been acquired by developers in 2012, it is a site that will also soon be redeveloped. I believe the name comes from the original owners of parcels of land along this stretch of the river, Morden College, who also owned part of Enderby Wharf.

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I doubt you have ever wondered where the Thames tourist boats are taken for maintenance, but if you did, it is here, slightly further along from Morden Wharf. A rather novel form of dry dock for lifting the boats out of the water for servicing below the water line.

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Almost reaching the northerly point of the Greenwich Peninsula the Millennium Dome / O2 Arena comes into view. After a rather controversial opening and original purpose, this is now a successful entertainment venue and is an interesting architectural structure, unique in London, however I have no idea what the building on the left adds to the area. Another recent building in London that looks bland and in the wrong location.

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Rounding the northern end of the peninsula and the Emirates Air Line, or more commonly known as the Dangleway, comes into view. Opened in 2012 and operated by Transport for London, the route connects the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Victoria Dock area, close to the Excel exhibition centre.

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On the north bank of the river is the original Trinity Buoy Wharf. Trinity House built their workshops here in 1803. The site was used for the construction and storage of buoys and provided moorings for the Trinity House ships that would collect and lay the buoys along the river and out to sea, from Southwold in Suffolk to Dungeness in Kent.

The site included extensive workshops and storage facilities including experimental lighthouses, the last to be built can still be seen today.

The site closed in 1988 and now hosts a range of facilities including rehearsal rooms, studio and gallery space.

Bow Creek is just to the right of the red lightship in the photo below and is where the River Lea enters the Thames at the end of its journey from the source at Leagrave, just north west of Luton.

Greenwich to Barking 8It is good to see that there is still some manufacturing remaining on the banks of the river. Nuplex is a global company based in Australia and New Zealand manufacturing resins which are used in a wide variety of industrial coatings. The North Woolwich / Silvertown site is their UK manufacturing and service centre.

The cranes in the background are along the old docks close to the Excel exhibition centre. Left in place to provide a reminder of how the area would have appeared prior to the closure of the docks.

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On the north bank, adjacent to the old Royal Victoria Dock is the Millennium Mills building. A major flour milling operation throughout much of the 20th century. The “D” Grain Silo, the building in white on the right is a Grade 2 listed building.

This whole area, including the Millennium Mills is about to undergo redevelopment, although the Millennium Mills building will remain.

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Looking back to the O2 and Canary Wharf with one of the Thames Clippers passing. The Thames today is very quiet, most of the time, only the occasional passenger or tourist boat to be seen.

The function of the river is now changing. For many centuries it brought goods to and from the docks and factories that lined the banks of the river. Now it is a relatively quiet waterway providing a scenic location for the new developments lining the river that are gradually moving downstream.

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We now come to the Thames Barrier. The flooding along the Thames following the storm surge of 1953 resulted in a new strategy for how the land along the river could be protected from such serious flooding. Continually building higher and higher walls alongside the river would not be practical, for example without the Thames Barrier and to protect central London from the most serious storm surges, the walls along the Embankment would have to be many feet higher, to the top of the Victorian street lights, almost shutting of the view of the river from the walkways alongside.

The Thames Barrier provides two main functions, it prevents storm surges from reaching further up the river, and following periods of very heavy rain, it can prevent a high tide from moving up river thereby providing a space for the flood water moving downstream to occupy, before passing through the barrier at the next low tide.

The Thames Barrier and Flood Protection Act 1972 led to the construction of the barrier which became operational in 1982.

A walk along the Thames during a very high tide will demonstrate how essential the Thames Barrier is to the protection of London.

Greenwich to Barking 10About to pass through the Thames Barrier:

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When I first had a trip down the river in 1978, construction of the Thames Barrier was well underway. The following are three of my photos from the time showing this major engineering project. Although similar, and larger, barriers had been constructed in the Netherlands, which had also suffered very badly in 1953, this was the first project of this type in the UK.

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And what passing through the Thames Barrier looks like today.

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Along this part of the river, the bank is lined with many relics of the river’s industrial past.

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The Tate & Lyle sugar refinery in Silvertown is still in full operation despite recent problems with EU imposed taxes on imported sugar cane from outside the EU which is used by the Silvertown plant rather than sugar beet produced within the EU,

Delivery of the raw product to be processed is by ship to the sites’ own mooring where the cranes lift out the sugar cane into the two black hoppers for transport to the refinery.

Delivery by ship makes the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery the furthest point upstream for large commercial shipping.

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Here is the old North Woolwich Pier. Before the free Woolwich Ferry came into operation, the Great Eastern Railway ran a passenger ferry across the river from this point. The brick building behind the pier is the old terminus building of the Great Eastern Railway.

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Looking back towards the Woolwich Ferry. The two ferry terminal buildings on either side of the river. One of the ferries at the Woolwich terminal and two ferries moored in the background.

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Passing North Woolwich, on the north bank of the river we now come to the old entrances to the Royal Docks. These were the last major docks to be built this far up the river and had the largest capacity of all the London docks at the time. The first, the Victoria Dock was opened in 1855, with the last, the King George V Dock opening in 1921. It was at this time that the cluster of docks (including the Royal Albert Dock which was opened in 1880) were given the name Royal Docks.

The Docks prospered until the growth of containerisation and in the size of ships meant that there was insufficient business for the docks and they finally closed in 1981.

Here we pass the original entrance to the King George V Dock.

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And thanks to the Britain from Above web site we can see what this entrance looked like in 1946. The King George V Dock is to the left and the Royal Albert Dock is to the right. The land in-between the two docks is now occupied by London City Airport which opened in 1987. I flew from the airport a number of times in the late 1980s and it was remarkably fast and informal. On the planes (relatively small, propeller driven Dash 7s), the pilots would often leave their door open and if you could get the right seat you had a superb view of the London Docks on arrival and departure.

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Next along is one of the two entrances to the basin that led in to the Royal Albert Dock. The channel leading from the river to the basin from this entrance has been completely filled in, with the entrance on the river providing a reminder that this was an entrance to one of the largest docks on the River Thames.

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The other entrance to the basin that led to the Royal Albert Dock is still in existence and provides access to the Gallions Point Marina, which now occupies the basin between the river and the Royal Albert Dock.

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Next along are the remains of what was once a very major industrial complex.

The Gas Light and Coke Company opened a plant here in 1870 to produce coal gas (along with a range of by-products) from coal. The site was chosen due to the large expanse of land and the deep water berthing available on the river for the colliers that would transport the coal to be processed.

The site supplied gas (or town gas as it was also called) for much of London north of the Thames. The discovery of large supplies of natural gas in the North Sea in the 1960s meant an end to town gas and the plant closed in 1970.

Only one of the many gas holders survives and can be seen to the left in the photo below. This is Number 8 gas holder, built between 1876 and 1879, the gas holder is 59m in diameter and was capable of holding 56,600 cubic meters of gas.

The piers in the river are all that remain of the large moorings on which the colliers would moor to unload their cargos of coal ready for processing into gas for the rest of London.

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Further along are a second set of piers for another mooring.

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The size of the site can be seen in the following photo from the Britain from Above web site, taken in 1931. The first set of piers on the photos above support the mooring to the left of the photo below, whilst the second photo are the moorings to the right.

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The name for the area, Beckton, comes from the name of the Governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company at the time the plant was opened, Simon Adams Beck.

And so to the final point in the tour down the Thames for this post, Barking Creek.

Barking Creek is where the River Roding (which rises near Stansted Airport) reaches the Thames. The area nearest the river was also affected by the floods of 1953. The residents of Creekmouth, which is directly to the right of the entrance, had more than 3ft of water invade their homes.

Being downstream of the Thames Barrier, the creek requires its own protection and this is provided by the barrier shown in the photo below. The main barrier provides sufficient clearance to allow shipping to enter the creek and descends when there is a risk of flood water entering the creek.

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That completes the Greenwich to Barking Creek stage of my exploration of the River Thames from City to Sea. Again, far too much history to cover, however I hope this has provided an introduction to this section of London’s river.

In my next post I will follow the Thames from Barking Creek to Southend.

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From The City To The Sea – Tower Pier To Greenwich

The River Thames is at the heart of London, it is the reason for London’s existence.

Coming from the sea, the location of London was the first point where it was relatively easy to bridge the river, probably the reason why the first Roman settlement was established.

For the centuries to come, the river allowed London to trade with the rest of the world and supported the growth of the businesses needed to finance and insure, trade the goods shipped through the port and the industries that used the raw materials delivered by the river and exported their manufactured products back out to the world.

Until the last few years, the river provided employment for thousands of Londoners with a high percentage of the country’s trade passing through the London docks.

The river provided London’s connection with the sea and the rest of the world.

Today, the docks have left central London, the river is quiet and very few Londoners have any real connection with the river.

The Thames now adds value to the expensive apartments built along the bank, it is something to be bridged, it is sometimes seen as a risk bringing the potential of flooding to the city.

Apart from the occasional visiting ship, the daily ebb and flow of the tides are now the only connection for most Londoners with the distant sea.

I had my first trip down the river in 1978, and since then it has been fascinating to watch how the river has changed. I also have a series of photos that my father took on a similar journey in the late 1940s. I am working to trace the exact locations and will publish these in a future post.

A couple of weeks ago I took the opportunity for another trip down the river aboard the Paddle Steamer Waverley, from Tower Pier out to the Maunsell Forts.

The Paddle Steamer Waverley is the last sea going paddle steamer in the world, built on the Clyde in 1947 to replace the ship of the same name sunk off Dunkirk in 1940. The Waverley is now run by a charity, the Waverley Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.

In my hurry to get on-board, I forgot to take a photo of the ship moored at Tower Pier, however photos and details can be found on the Waverley’s web site which can be found here.

This is a very brief run along the river. Such a journey really does demand more time and research, however I hope it will illustrate the rich history of London’s river. My photos are also straight out the camera with no processing and under changing lighting conditions, so I apologise for the variable quality.

Over the coming week I will cover:

  • Tower Pier to Greenwich
  • Greenwich to Barking Creek
  • Barking Creek to Southend
  • Southend out to Sea
  • An Evening Return to London (when the Thames takes on a whole new personality)

Join me today and for the next few days to explore the river, starting today at Tower Pier through to Greenwich.

After leaving Tower Pier, the Waverley is being towed out towards Tower Bridge.

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Passing underneath Tower Bridge. Unfortunately shooting into the sun.

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On the southern bank of the river, adjacent to Tower Bridge is the old Anchor Brewery building, with to the lower right of the building, Horselydown Old Stairs.

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On the north bank of the Thames, just after passing Tower Bridge is the entrance to St. Katherine’s Dock. Built on 23 acres of land on which stood the original foundations of the St. Katherine Hospital, a brewery, 1,100 houses and a church – St. Katherine by the Tower.

The last service took place at the church on the 30th October, 1825 and work on the dock commenced in 1827 with the first stone being laid on May 2nd 1827.  The docks were badly damaged by wartime bombing and with the docks being unable to accommodate the growth in the size of ships, never returned to their pre-war volumes in shipping and goods, finally closing in 1968. Much of the area has been redeveloped, however some of the original warehouses remain and the old docks are now occupied by a marina.

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Next along on the north bank is HMS President, the shore based location of the Royal Naval Reserve Unit for London. The Navy have occupied the site since 1988 following the sale of the ships HMS President and HMS Chrysanthemum. It was formally the P&O London ferry terminal.

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We then come to the first new developments on the north bank of the Thames, not continuing the architectural style of the warehouses that ran along this part of the river. On the river are moorings provided specifically for historic vessels provided by Heritage Community Moorings.

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Here is Wapping Pierhead, the original entrance to the London Docks. On either side of the dock entrance is a terrace of Georgian Houses built between 1811 and 1813. The entrance held a lock which was 170 feet long and 40 feet wide, providing access between the river and the London Docks.

During the 1930s the importance of the London Docks declined, again due to the ever increasing size of shipping and the entrance being unable to accommodate the larger ocean going ships.

The London Docks were gradually closed during the 1960s when the Wapping entrance was filled in. The gardens built on the filled in lock can still be followed back across Wapping High Street.

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Adjacent to Pierhead is Oliver’s Wharf, named after George Oliver for whom the wharf was built in 1870. Oliver’s Wharf has the distinction of being one of the first riverside wharfs to be converted into luxury apartments. The steps on the left side of Oliver’s Wharf are Wapping Old Stairs and lead up to the Town of Ramsgate pub. A pub has been on the site since the 15th century. It was known as Ramsgate Old Town from 1766 and in 1811 took the current name, Town of Ramsgate. The Ramsgate connection is reputedly down to the use of the stairs by fishermen from Ramsgate to bring ashore their catch.

The area around the base of Wapping Old Stairs is also assumed to be location where those found guilty of piracy were hanged and left in the water until three tides had passed over their bodies.

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Passing Oliver’s Wharf, the expanse of the Thames opens up with the towers of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs in the distance. The river today is very quiet compared to how it would have been for much of London’s existence. This photo also illustrates how the river curves and loops. Here it curves to the left before embarking on a wide loop around the Isle of Dogs, taking the river to the extreme right of the photo.

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How the Thames has been the route for trade during the centuries is highlighted by three quotes used by A.G. Linney in his book “Lure and Lore of London’s River”:

“To this City, Merchants bring in Wares by Ships from every Nation under Heaven. The Arabian sends his Gold, the Sabean his Frankincense and Spices, the Scythian Arms, Oil of Palms from the plentiful Wood: Babylon her fat Soil, and Nilus his precious Stones; the Seres send purple Garments; they and Norway and Russia Trouts, Furs and Sables; and the French their Wines.” – Fitzstephen, a Twelfth-Century Monk

“The wealth of the world is wafted to London by the Thames, swelled by the tide; and navigable in merchant ships through safe and deep channel, for sixty miles, from its mouth to the City; its banks are everywhere beautified with fine country seats, woods and farms.” – Paul Hentzner, a Seventeeth-Century Visitor to England

“One hundred thousand men, dockers, stevedores, lightermen, sailors, and kindred callings depend upon the Port of London; and all of them subsist and owe their livelihood to the bountiful favour of Father Thames.” – John Burns, a Twentieth-Century London Lover

How this has changed we can explore as we travel down the river.

To protect the ships on the river and the goods they carried, the River Thames has one of the earliest established police forces in the world. The Marine Policing Unit was originally set-up in 1798 following a spate of thefts from shipping in the Pool of London. The original police station for the Marine Policing Unit was in Wapping, and although the original building has been replaced by one constructed in 1907, the head office and main operating base continues on the same site. The Marine Policing building in the centre with the Police pier on the river:

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In the above photo, the building to the right is St. John’s Wharf. This building and those in the photo below were all originally part of the St. John’s Wharf complex. The buildings facing the Thames are all original, however the Captain Kidd pub is new following a 1980s conversion of the building. The building on the right, now called Phoenix Wharf was originally St. John’s (K) Wharf and dates from the 1840s.

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Next along are the King Henry’s Wharfs. Originally used for the storage of sugar and coffee. The cranes mounted on the building show two of the types of crane which would have lifted goods from ships to be stored in the wharf building and were a common feature on the wharfs along the river.

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Just past King Henry’s Wharf on the north bank is Gun Wharves. These are Grade 2 listed buildings and whilst many of the other remaining wharf buildings date from the 19th century, Gun Wharves are from the late 1920s.

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Another original building converted into luxury apartments is New Crane Wharf and for a bit of 1980s nostalgia, the opening part of the video for Katrina & The Waves song Walking On Sunshine was filmed in and around a partially derelict New Crane Wharf in 1985. The video can be found here.

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Metropolitan Wharf, another Grade 2 listed building, the overall complex constructed between 1862 and 1898.

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We then pass the Prospect of Whitby. A pub has stood on the site for many centuries, with the current building from the early 19th century when the pub took the name allegedly after an 18th century collier registered at Whitby called the Prospect.

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Soon after the Prospect of Whitby is the entrance to the Shadwell Basin. The red bridge that can be seen above the dock entrance is the bridge seen in my father’s photo looking down Glamis Road which can be found in this post.

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Next along is the entrance to the Limehouse Marina in the original Limehouse Basin. The Limehouse Basin provides access to the Limehouse Cut which runs up to the River Lea and to the Regents Canal. This would have been a busy entrance providing the route for barges to transport goods further inland and around north London.

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Just past the entrance to the Limehouse Marina is another historic Thames pub. The Grapes can be seen on the left side of the photo with the tiers of stairs facing the river. Look in the river just to the right of The Grapes and one of Antony Gormley’s statues can be seen standing on a pillar in the river. The statue, called “Another Time” was purchased by Sir Ian McKellen who is a part owner of The Grapes. The statue is best seen from the terrace at the back of The Grapes during a high tide when the plinth is below the water and the figure appears to be standing on the water, forever staring downstream.

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The entrance to Dunbar Wharf. A short stretch of water named after the Dunbar’s who started with a local brewery and then went on to own some of the warehouses here and operate a large fleet of ships that carried goods across the world.

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Just past Dunbar Wharf we approach the Isle of Dogs and the Canary Wharf office complex that now occupies the site of the West India Docks.

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As well as office blocks, much of the riverside of the Isle of Dogs is now occupied by an ever increasing number of apartment buildings.

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This is the old entrance, now blocked up, to the Millwall Outer Dock, the dock at the southern end of the Isle of Dogs. One of my father’s photos shows the damage caused by a bomb which hit the right side of the entrance to the dock.

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The following photo from the Britain from Above website shows the southern end of the Isle of Dogs in 1934 with the Millwall Outer Dock and its entrance to the Thames.

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Looking back at the office blocks of Canary Wharf with the old entrance to the Millwall Outer Dock on the right.

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Most of the photos I have taken so far have been of the north bank of the Thames. I must admit I was concentrating on the north bank despite so much of interest on the south as we passed Rotherhithe. The sun was behind the south bank of the river tending to put the buildings along the south bank in shade.

Approaching Greenwich I moved over to look at the south bank and the following photo shows all that remains of Paynes Paper Wharf in Deptford.

The original arches are at the front, with a new development occupying the rest of the site. This was originally a marine boiler factory, built for marine engineers J. Penn & Sons. It was here that HMS Warrior, the ironclad ship (which had been constructed at the Thames Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company based at Blackwall) had her engines built and installed. HMS Warrior is now preserved at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Production of marine engines ceased in 1911 and the site was later used for paper storage.

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The photo below shows the entrance to Deptford Creek. It is just possible to see the new foot bridge that runs across the entrance of the creek to allow the Thames Path to continue without the earlier in-land diversion. The unique feature of the bridge is that it is a swing bridge. To allow ships to pass in and out of the creek, the bridge can pivot on its easterly mounting (the left side of the photo) and swing open towards the Thames.

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Arriving at Greenwich with the entrance to the foot tunnel and the Cutty Sark.

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The Waverley did not stop at Greenwich this year, however to finish this section of the journey, the following photos show the arrival at Greenwich when I took the same journey in 1978:

City to Greenwich 27City to Greenwich 28City to Greenwich 29Greenwich has always held an important role in the life of Thames. Originally the site of a Royal Palace, reached by the river and the birthplace of Henry VIII in 1491, then as a Royal Hospital for Seamen and finally as a Naval College.

The Royal Observatory on the hill behind played a key part in developing the navigation systems and accurate measurement of time that helped ships navigate the world. The red ball on top of the observatory provides an accurate time signal to passing ships. Starting in 1833 and continuing to this day, the ball rises at 12:55 and drops at 13:00.

Join me in the next post to continue down the river, from Greenwich to Barking Creek.

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