Monthly Archives: October 2015

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.

Thames at Night 1

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.

Thames at Night 31

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.

Thames at Night 3

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

Thames at Night 4

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

Thames at Night 5

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.

Thames at Night 6

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

Thames at Night 7

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.

Thames at Night 32

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

Thames at Night 8

Passing through the barrier.

Thames at Night 9

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.

Thames at Night 10

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

Thames at Night 11

Passing the O2 Arena:

Thames at Night 12

With Canary Wharf in the background.

Thames at Night 13

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)

Thames at Night 14

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.

Thames at Night 15

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

Thames at Night 16

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

Thames at Night 17

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.

Thames at Night 18

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

Thames at Night 19

Continuing pass the Isle of Dogs.

Thames at Night 20

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.

Thames at Night 21

The brilliant lighting of Canary Wharf.

Thames at Night 22

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.

Thames at Night 23

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

Thames at Night 24

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

Thames at Night 25

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

Thames at Night 26

And the Shard on the left.Thames at Night 27

About to pass under Tower Bridge.

Thames at Night 29

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.

Thames at Night 30

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.

From The City To The Sea – The Thames Estuary

Before returning to London, a quick chance to explore the Thames Estuary and discover some of the legacy from the last war that has survived the last 70 years.

As the Waverley left Southend, the sky and sea seemed to merge even more into a uniform grey with only the occasional boat adding any colour.

Soon after leaving Southend Pier there is the wreck of a part of the Mulberry Harbours that were used directly after the D-Day landings in France to provide temporary harbours until one of the French ports could be taken.

This particular part is a Phoenix Caisson. These were very large concrete hollow boxes that were used to provide the support to the harbour. They were manufactured at three locations in the UK including Tilbury on the Thames, however this Caisson was being brought from Immingham on the Humber to Southsea (Portsmouth on the south coast) ready for transport across the channel.

Whilst being transported from Immingham it sprang a leak and was towed into the Thames and beached in its current position.

Southend to Sea 1

There is a much more potentially destructive relic of the last war about 5 miles from Southend. This is the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery.

The SS Montgomery left the US in August 1944 loaded with over 6,000 tonnes of munitions and explosives. Arriving off Southend the ship was instructed to moor off Sheerness. On the 20th August, the Montgomery started to drag her anchor and drifted to a sand bank where she became stuck as the tide went down and the due to the uneven distribution of weight and insufficient water to provide support, she broke her back and was stranded on the sandbank with her full compliment of explosive cargo.

There was an attempt to remove some of the cargo, however before this was complete the ship finally broke in two and the salvage attempt was abandoned leaving a very considerable volume of munitions and explosives (high explosive bombs, fragmentation bombs, phosphorus bombs, pyrotechnic signals, flares and fuses) on the ship, which remain there to this day.

The ship has an exclusion zone marked by buoys and is regularly surveyed to check the stability of the structure.

I am not sure if anyone really knows what would happen if there was an explosion, many years ago I heard stories that it would break many of the windows in Southend.

It is an eerie sight passing the wreck and seeing the masts of the SS Richard Montgomery still standing above the water.

Southend to Sea 2

Further out from Southend are the Maunsell Forts.

These were operated by the Navy and Army during the last war to provide anti-aircraft gun emplacements in the estuary. The River Thames provided an ideal navigation route to central London for enemy bombers. Even at night and with a blackout, the glint of the moon on the water of the Thames would lead directly to London.

These forts were the idea of Guy Anson Maunsell, a highly innovative civil engineer who had worked on a range of civil engineering projects in the UK and abroad, including in 1931, the widening of Putney Bridge.

The initial requirement was for a set of Naval Forts further out to sea than the Army forts. They were operated by the Navy with the objective of preventing German mine laying in the approaches to the Thames. Four of these were constructed, of which two (Rough Sands and Knock John) survive. From the Thames Estuary the Knock John fort can be seen as a rather enigmatic shape in the distance.

Southend to Sea 11The Army forts followed the Naval forts. The aim of these forts was to attack approaching bomber forces with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on each of the individual forts.

The first set of forts were deployed in the Mersey to protect Liverpool, with the next set of forts deployed across the Thames Estuary to protect London.

Three forts were installed, Shivering Sands, Red Sands and Nore, with Shivering Sands and Red Sands remaining to this day.

Setting out from Southend, the first fort is Red Sands.

Southend to Sea 3

The forts were built on the Thames in a disused and derelict cement factory that Maunsell had found at Red Lion Wharf at Northfleet, close to Gravesend. The forts were constructed, towed out and installed on site between May and December 1943.

Southend to Sea 4

A central observation tower was surrounded by towers, each with an anti-aircraft gun installed. Walkways were run between the individual towers to provide access across the complex.

Southend to Sea 5

Although land was visible from the forts, this must have felt like an isolated and remote location for those based on the forts, coupled with long periods where there would not have been any enemy activity.  It cannot have been very comfortable on a cold and stormy winters night.

The crew of the forts would spend 4 weeks on-board, then a 10 day break ashore.

Although the forts were operational after the main period of the blitz on London they were successful during the later V1 campaign when at least 30 of the V1s were shot down on their way to London.

Southend to Sea 6

I passed the forts during my 1978 journey down the Thames, with the following photo from this time. Most of the walkways were then still in place. The weather was also better, just to show that there is some colour in the estuary.

Southend to Sea 13

The Thames Estuary provides an example of how power generation has changed over the last century. Initially, power stations were local to population centres. London had a number of smaller power stations, (my grandfather worked in one in Camden). These were replaced by larger stations such as Battersea and Bankside. Power stations then started moving away from centres of population to places such as Littlebrook and Tilbury that we passed along the river. These have now closed and generation moved out to sea with a number of offshore wind farms located in the wider Thames Estuary.

Emerging out of the gloom are the 30 wind turbines of the Kentish Flats Offshore Wind Farm.

Southend to Sea 7

Further out in the Estuary is the Shivering Sands fort. This was the last fort is be completed and as Maunsell wrote at the time:

“the final floating out operation sailed on the afternoon on December 13th, whereafter it transpired that the last of the Towers was grounded on the Shivering Sand in bright moonlight and bitter cold shortly after midnight on December 14th.”

Shivering Sands lost one of its towers in 1963 when it was hit by a ship. The stump of the tower still pokes from the water:

Southend to Sea 8

Passing Shivering Sands fort with Red Sands in the distance. Viewed from a distance they could almost be the Martians from H.G. Wells book War of the Worlds, striding across the Thames Estuary ready to wreak havoc on Southend.

Southend to Sea 9

Seventy years of construction in the Thames Estuary from wartime defences to peaceful electricity generation.

Southend to Sea 10

After the war, Guy Maunsell and a couple of partners set-up their own business and were much in demand to work on major construction projects across the world.

In London, G. Maunsell & Partners were responsible for the Hammersmith Flyover. When this was completed in 1961 it was the first such pre-cast segmented concrete structure in the UK. Further work followed on the Westway from Paddington to White City.

Guy Maunsell died in 1961. His company continued independently, working on projects such as the Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee Line, until the year 2000 when the company was bought by the US firm AECOM.

The Imperial War Museum has a number of photos of the forts in use (reproduced under the IWM’s Share and Reuse, non commercial licence):

Supply vessel approaching one of the Thames forts © IWM (H 34537):

IWM - 1View from the top of one of the towers showing the anti-aircraft gun mounted on each tower © IWM (H 34542):

IWM - 2The only photo of the construction of the towers I could find was of the Mersey forts, however the Thames Estuary forts from Northfleet on the Thames would have been constructed in the same manner, ready to be floated out to sea © IWM (A 13259):

IWM - 3 A final view of the Red Sands fort, wind farm and a ship approaching the Thames heading for its berth further upstream.

Southend to Sea 14

The water that has flowed through London and down the Thames has now merged with the sea. Even at this distance, connections with London can still be found through the Maunsell Forts, built specifically to defend the city from attack during the last war.

The Thames is a fascinating river with a long history, intimately connected with London.

Now it is time to turn round and head back to London. For my final post on the Thames it will be a dramatic after dark return to the centre of the city.

From The City To The Sea – Barking Creek To Southend

Continuing on my journey along the River Thames from the City of London to the Sea, this post covers the section from Barking Creek to Southend. The river continues to change as we get closer to the estuary. The river is wider and the land on the river bank appears lower, almost merging with the water.

Where there is industry, transport and trade, it is now much larger, almost mirroring the increasing width of the river. Ocean going ships start to appear and the river has navigation markers for these, not the small passenger ferries that are the main river traffic closer to the city.

The weather also changed as we approached the estuary. The grey of the river seemed to evaporate and merge with the sky.

Leaving Barking Creek, we find one of the navigation lights that help ships navigate the Thames after dark. This one is at Crossness with the houses of Thamesmead behind. Undergoing some maintenance, but one of a number that line the river.

Barking to Southend 1

Much of the north bank of the Thames from Barking up to Tilbury is occupied by a range of industries specialising in bulk goods such as aggregates:

Barking to Southend 2

The common feature being that the Thames is the mode of transport for bulk delivery to the sites:

Barking to Southend 3

On the north bank of the river, we pass the Ford plant at Dagenham. The plant is a shadow of its former self. Car production has long ceased and the plant now manufactures diesel engines. Problems with the age of the plant, terrible industrial relations during the 1970s and the strength of the Pound resulted in Ford shifting car production to a number of other European locations. A site which once employed around 40,000 workers now employs close to 3,000. There is still a dock on the river for Ford, used for shipping to transport engines to other Ford plants.

Barking to Southend 4

How the site has changed can be seen by comparing the above with the Britain from Above photo below from 1949. In the above photo there is a very small blue Ford sign on the white band running across the centre of the building, in the past the site had the largest neon sign in Europe proudly proclaiming the Ford brand.

Ford 1949 - EAW022766

Past Dagenham, the Thames opens up. Calm and quiet.

Barking to Southend 5

Approaching Erith, Kent on the southern bank of the river is the oil processing plant of Archer, Daniels, Midland Erith Ltd. This is oil from rapeseed, linseed and sunflowers rather than oil extracted from below ground. The plant processes 1 million tonnes of rapeseed a year to produce 385,000 tonnes of refined oil for use as food ingredients and biofuels.

Barking to Southend 6

One common feature of the river bank are the scrapyards and excavators. I lost count of how many excavators there were along the length of the river.

Barking to Southend 7

A break in the flat land bordering the Thames is not a natural feature, but a landfill site covering part of Rainham Marshes. Fortunately landfill does not occupy the majority of the old marshes and much has been preserved and now form an RSPB reserve on the Thames.

Barking to Southend 8

Passing Rainham and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge comes into view. Opened in 1991, the bridge provides additional capacity to the two tunnels under the Thames at the same location.  Traffic crossing the river at this point has grown considerably and is the only river crossing east of the Woolwich Ferry and the only bridge east of Tower Bridge.

The first tunnel was opened in 1963, long before the M25 and provided a crossing under the river between Purfleet on the north bank and Dartford on the south. The second tunnel was opened in 1980, however traffic continued to grow and rather than add a third tunnel, the most cost effective method for a large volume of traffic was the bridge. The tunnels and the bridge now make up the river crossing between the M25 on the north and south banks of the Thames.

Barking to Southend 9

In the above photo, there is a power station on the right. This is the Littlebrook Power Station, an oil fired station and the fourth to operate on the site since 1939. Proximity to the Thames allowed the fuel to be transported by river.

The station is owned by the German utility RWE and has now closed as having used up a limited number of generating hours under the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive that limits the life of the most polluting power plants.

On the south side of the river is where the River Darent enters the Thames. As with Barking Creek, the river has its own barrier which is lowered during very high tides and storm surges to prevent flooding down river. The river rises near Westerham in Kent.

Barking to Southend 10

The land on the south side of the river has not been developed as much as the north and long stretches of the river bank and adjacent land have changed very little over the centuries.

Barking to Southend 11

On the north bank of the river is the remaining powder magazine from the original set of five magazines that formed the Royal Magazine for Gunpowder at Purfleet. Each magazine provided storage for 10,000 barrels of gunpowder. Built between 1763 and 1765, the other four were only demolished in 1973. The site was one of the major stores of gunpowder for both the army and navy, storing powder produced at the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey.

Waltham Abbey is adjacent to the River Lea so it is probable that the River Lea which enters the Thames by Trinity Buoy Wharf was used to bring the gunpowder to the Thames from where it was transported along the river to Purfleet.

Such was the importance of reducing the risks of sparks. wooden cranes were used inside to move the barrels. These still survive along with much of the original interior fittings. The remaining magazine is Grade 2 listed so will not suffer the fate as the other four.

Barking to Southend 12

Now getting closer to the bridge, but the sun shows no sign of returning.

Barking to Southend 13

Weekend pleasure users of the river:

Barking to Southend 14

Passing under the bridge it is possible to appreciate the engineering which when driving over the top it is not always possible to do.

The deck of the bridge is 812m long with 450m of crossing over the river. The concrete masts rising above the bridge are 84m tall and they sit on 53m of concrete piers below the bridge. the clearance between the bridge and the river at high water is 57.5m

Each of the piers is designed to survive the impact of a 65,000 tonne ship travelling at 18.5km per hour. Reassuring when you next travel over the bridge!

Barking to Southend 15

And the sun briefly makes an appearance as the Waverley sails on downriver from the bridge.

Barking to Southend 16

Just past the bridge, on the north bank is another of Thames lighthouses. This one the Stone Ness Lighthouse on a spit of land poking out into the Thames. Whilst the twists and turns of the Thames are very clear during the day, at night the river is dark and although today ships have GPS navigation systems to guide them down the river, these lights would have been essential to show where the river did not continue in a straight line. Today they remain essential markers and a backup for those without accurate GPS based river mapping.

Barking to Southend 17

The Thames can boast that it has the tallest electrical transmission towers in the UK. These can be found supporting electrical power cables across the river between West Thurrock on the north bank and Swanscombe on the south. Built in 1965 these towers are 190m, 623ft tall.

Barking to Southend 18

There are a number of interesting new industrial complexes along the Thames which appear to use the river for transport of raw or processed materials. This one between West Thurrock and Tilbury, showing that along this part of the river it is still providing an essential function in supporting trade and industry. It has just moved much further downstream from London.

Barking to Southend 19

Approaching Tilbury, large grain silos:

Barking to Southend 20

Now at Tilbury Docks. The docks were opened in 1886 to help with the ever increasing volume of trade on London’s river and the lack of space at the central London docks.

Along with the availability of land, Tilbury was an ideal location due to a railway already being in existence leading to the ferry across to Gravesend. Unlike the central London docks, the availability of space, and the downstream location of Tilbury ensured that the docks could handle the conversion to containerisation and the ever increasing size of container ships.

Tilbury remains a busy port, however as we shall see, there is new competition downstream.

Barking to Southend 21

This is the London Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, the original Tilbury passenger ferry terminal. The terminal supports a number of the smaller cruise ships.

Barking to Southend 22

In my post that covered the Thames Barrier, I commented that without the barrier the river walls on the Embankment would need to be almost up to the height of the street lamps. The height of the river and the level of the land is very noticeable along stretches of the river. The following photo is showing Tilbury Fort with the majority of the fort gate hidden below the river wall.

Barking to Southend 23

The appearance of the gate to the fort and the river in 1849 can be seen in this painting by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield titled Wind Against Tide. See also my post on the fort which can be found here. Channelling of the river, the loss of natural marsh land to absorb overflow and possible sea level rise over the centuries has resulted in the level of the Thames rising with respect to much of the surrounding land.


Across the river from Tilbury is Gravesend, an old town recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Here is the Royal Terrace Pier, built in 1844 and now an operations centre for the Port of London Authority.

Barking to Southend 24

Opposite Gravesend is Tilbury Power Station, as with the Littlebrook Power Station next to the QE2 Bridge, it is also owned by RWE and closed in 2013 having used up the hours available for coal and biomass generation, raw materials which were transported along the river. I do not believe there is now an operational power station along the Thames.

Barking to Southend 25

Another industry that has left the river is crude oil refining. Shell had long operated a large refinery at Shell Haven. Refinery operations started in 1916 and continued until 1999 when the site closed. The refinery has since been demolished and replaced with the London Gateway, a major new container port, part of which is shown in the photo below:

Barking to Southend 27

The river has been dredged to ensure that deep water moorings are available and the river bank built forward to provide 2.7km of quayside. The container cranes are 453ft high and can reach across a ship laden with 25 containers across.

Barking to Southend 28

Just past the London Gateway is the Coryton Refinery, named after the village that was absorbed into the refinery complex during a period of expansion in the 1970s. The Coryton Refinery lasted longer than Shell Haven and finally closed in 2013, ending crude oil refining on the Thames. Two years later the refinery complex is still in place, awaiting whatever the future holds for the site.

Barking to Southend 29

Next along is Canvey Island, The island was hit hard during the floods of 1953 which caused the deaths of 58 people. The sea wall has been significantly strengthened around the island and as can be seen in the photo below, the roof line of the houses just peer above the top of the blue sea wall.

The white building in the centre of the photo is the Labworth Café. A unique modernist building made of reinforced concrete and built between 1932 and 1933. The building was almost lost during one of the river wall building programmes and the overall impact of the building has been reduced with the lower part becoming embedded in the sea defences. It has now been restored and is a Grade 2 listed building.

Barking to Southend 30

The photo below shows the north Kent coastline along the river. It has not changed for centuries and is still much the same as when Dickens would have walked here, and as described in the opening sections of Great Expectations:

“Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound twenty miles from the sea. My first and most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard….and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected  with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

The north Kent coastline along the Thames. The flat coast land merging with the river.

Barking to Southend 33

One indication of how far one has travelled down the Thames is the size of ship that can be seen. This ship passing Canvey Island is an empty container ship on its way to the London Gateway.

Barking to Southend 31

And finally, Southend Pier comes into view. The longest pier in the world at 1.34 miles. It is also Grade 2 listed.

The main reason for the length of the pier was to attract pleasure boats from London. The coastal part of the Thames Estuary leading up to Southend is relatively shallow and at low tide extensive mudflats reach out from the coast. A long pier was needed to reach a water depth that did not dry out at low tide, thereby allowing boats to moor at the end of the pier and unload visiting Londoners ready to spend their hard earned money during a rare pleasure trip to Southend.

Southend Pier has suffered numerous fires, has been struck by ships and has been threatened by closure, but after recent investment now seems to have a secure future. Even the trains, which were such a unique feature of the pier, continue to run.

Barking to Southend 32

It is hard to tell at Southend where the River Thames ends and the sea begins. The Crow Stone, an obelisk set in the river edge at Westcliffe-on-Sea, just a short distance west of the pier is the traditional boundary between the river and the sea. The Crow Stone was installed in 1836 to replace an earlier stone marker from 1755. These stones marking the limits of the authority of originally the City of London and then the Port of London Authority. Unfortunately, the Crow Stone was not visible this far out in the estuary.

Sailing down the Thames it is fascinating to imagine the vast number of ships and people that have travelled along the same route over the centuries. Prior to the development of flight (which given London’s long history is only relatively recently) the river was London’s gateway to the world for both people and trade.

Although much reduced, it still retains this role, whether taking cruise ships to Tilbury or cargo to the docks at Tilbury and the London Gateway along with the remaining industrial sites that line the river.

Although the boundary with the sea has been reached, there is more to visit, so in the next post a brief run out to the sea past Southend, before an after dark run back to Tower Pier.

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.

Greenwich to Barking 2

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.

Greenwich to Barking 3

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.

Greenwich to Barking 28

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.

Greenwich to Barking 4

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.

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.

Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter

I have always been interested in what can be found beneath the city streets since finding a copy of Under London by F.L Stevens, published in 1939, probably one of the earliest books dedicated to the subject.

In the late 1970’s, straight out of school as a British Telecom apprentice and working in one of the hidden regional seats of government during the Cold War only furthered this interest. This site in Essex was entered via an ordinary bungalow built on a hillside, inside which a long tunnel led deep into the hillside to the centre of the complex. The site is now open as a tourist attraction !

Therefore I will always take any opportunity for an underground visit and recently the London Transport Museum have been arranging open days at a number of facilities associated with the transport system.

A couple of weeks ago, as part of the London Transport Museum open days I visited the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter, built during the 2nd World War.

The book Under London, being published in 1939, did not cover the structures built during the war, however it does show the rapid change in the types of defences needed to protect Londoners. The book concludes with a final chapter “London Takes Cover” which documents some of the preparations in London for the expected bombing of the city. Part of the chapter reads:

“A model system of trenches has been built in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, under the seven acres of which is an underground network, one thousand four hundred and twenty-nine feet long, seven feet deep, and covered with concrete and two feet of earth. Seating accommodation is provided for one thousand three hundred people. When the work is finished, turf will be replanted, tennis courts re-laid and, in addition, a new putting green is to be constructed.

Trench systems nearing completion are, at the time I write this, at Clapham Common; Kennington Park; Victoria Park….”

There follows a list of the locations in London where trench systems were being built. The inadequate protection provided by shallow trench systems for the bombing that was to come was soon very apparent.  I doubt the author of Under London could have imagined the shelters that would be built in the next few years, one of which was the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter.

One of the entrances to the shelter close to Clapham South Underground Station on the edge of the Common:

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At the start of the war, air raid shelters consisted of trench systems, the basements of buildings, along with the opening of underground stations, although the adequacy of these proved ineffective to direct bombing, including parts of the underground system which were just below the surface. Deep level shelters were needed and in October 1940, with no end in sight of the heavy bombing on London, the Government planned the construction of a number of deep level shelters across London capable of taking up to 10,000 people in each shelter.

Construction started in 1941 with completion in 1942.

To enter the tunnel system on the tour, a second entrance was used, not the obvious entrance on the edge of the Common. At first glance it could be part of the architectural features of the new building above the entrance, however a side door provides access to a very different world:

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The shelters are approximately 30 meters deep and the vertical shaft providing access has a double spiral of stairs to speed entry and descent. Whilst the shelters had the facilities to house 10,000 people, getting this many in and out needed the double spiral to try and speed this up, although how long it may have taken for many thousands of people of all ages to climb 30 meters of stairs after a long night below ground can only be imagined.

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At the base of the stairs, part of one of the cross passages:

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The cross passages provide access to the main shelters. These consist of two tunnels, each about 400 meters long. The tunnels are divided into upper and lower levels thereby doubling the number of people each tunnel can accommodate.

A glimpse of one of the shelter tunnels curving into the distance:

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Looking down one of the shelter tunnels. This is the lower half of the tunnel with an identical arrangement in the half of the tunnel above. On the left are the original frames of the bunks provided for those seeking shelter. On the right is shelving for when the shelter was later used to provide secure archive storage.

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One of the sections has been fitted out to show how they would have been used:

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Looking along the top bunk level, the length of the shelter. Imagine looking along this level when the top bunks were all occupied.

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One of the junctions on the cross passages. On the left is one of the places on the tour where a photo background has been put in place to show what the shelter looked like at the time of use, very effective.

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With two long, identical tunnels, each divided into two, it would have been rather difficult to find the specific place where you had your bunk or to meet other family members or friends. To help with location finding, the tunnels were divided into shelter areas, each named after a senior officer in the navy.

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The tunnels are very well signposted so even with many thousands of people, whilst it would have been crowded, it would have been difficult to get lost.

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Each of the shelters had a canteen. To keep up morale and provide an incentive for being in the shelters, as well as hot drinks, the canteens provided sausage rolls, meat pies etc. food that was not easily available due to the strict rationing restrictions in place at the time.

Original fuse box at one of the canteen locations:

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As well as the fuse box, other reminders of the original use of sections of the shelters remain. Original location for a sink in one of the medical facilities:

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Examples of wartime posters highlighting the problems with food supplies at the time and the importance of home grown, basic food products such as potatoes and carrots:

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As well as the two surface entrances, the tunnels also has an access to the Clapham South Underground Station. This entrance is now bricked up, however during the war it was used to provide direct access to the station platforms for those travelling to work by underground train.

Throughout the tour, the sound of trains highlighted how close the shelters were to the tunnels of the Northern Line.

Steps leading up to the bricked up entrance to Clapham South station:

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Brown staining on some of the tunnel walls provide an indication of the materials used in construction. Apparently the brown stains are from the creosote used to soak the hemp that provides waterproofing between joints in the structure.

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By the time the shelters were completed, the intense bombing from the blitz period had ceased and bombing of London was much more sporadic. The shelters remained available, but were not opened. This changed during the later period of the war when the V1 and V2 weapons were targeting London.

After the war the Clapham South shelters were called on to provide accommodation to meet a number of specific needs.

Military personnel were accommodated in the shelters for large events in London, such as the 1953 coronation. Migrant workers who arrived in 1948 on the Empire Windrush, and who did not have any other accommodation, were provided with space in the shelters.

During the 1951 Festival of Britain, the shelters became the Festival Hotel and provided cheap accommodation for overseas visitors to the festival.

Some of these occupants left their mark in the shelters. Above the bunks, names can be found written on the shelter walls. Due to the dry conditions and stable temperatures of the shelters these look as if they could have been written yesterday rather than over 60 years ago:

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Some are written upside down. Here, Marcel de Wael from Brussels was obviously lying on his bunk, writing his name on the shelter wall above his head:

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As well as reminders of the occupants, other original signage can be found throughout the shelters:

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And inside the control room, one of the boards and the outlines of alarms and indicators that would have notified the staff of any problems within the shelters:

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The end of the tour and time to climb the 30 meters back to the surface:

Clapham Shelter 24The shelters are impressive to visit and the London Transport Museum tours are really well run and highly informative.

These tunnels were built at the height of the war and the blitz on London, mainly dug by hand and without the complex shields and tunnel boring machines that would be used today.

It was not just the shelters at Clapham South, but the other eight shelters completed around London at the same time. In addition to Clapham South, shelters were completed at Clapham Common, Clapham North, Stockwell, Goodge Street, Chancery Lane, Camden Town and Belsize Park. Tunnels were started at the Oval and St. Pauls but were abandoned at the Oval due to poor ground conditions and at St. Paul’s due to restrictions with tunnelling close to the cathedral.

A truly impressive undertaking.

The excellent Subterranea Britannica site has a wealth of detail and photos on the Clapham South Deep-Level Shelter which can be found here.

The Ticket Porter – Arthur Street

For this week’s post we are in the City of London in 1948, on the corner of Arthur Street where it joins with Upper Thames Street, close to the northern approach to London Bridge. A small part of the City that did not suffer major damage during the war just a few years earlier.

Looking up Arthur Street we can see a large pub, “The Ticket Porter”:

Ticket Porter 1

I stood at the same place in 2015 and looked across to a very different scene:

Ticket Porter 2

A building site now occupies the location of the Ticket Porter. The original pub lasted until the early 1970s and the building work on the site is for probably the third building since the destruction of the pub.

To confirm that this is the correct location, if you look at the buildings on the left of the street, the second building is still the same as when my father took the original. It is the only building on Arthur Street that has survived the last 67 years.

This photo taken from the approach road to London Bridge shows the original building and the curve of Arthur Street round to the right.

Ticket Porter 3

Arthur Street, by London standards, is a relatively new street and I believe it was constructed to provide a route up from Upper Thames Street to London Bridge.

The location of Arthur Street is shown in the Google Map below. The curve of the street from Upper Thames Street to King William Street providing easy access to London Bridge can be clearly seen.

Prior to the move of London Bridge to its current location, Arthur Street did not exist. The following map is an extract from John Rocque’s survey of London from 1746. I have highlighted St. Martin’s Lane with an orange line. This street once ran all the way to Upper Thames Street, however today, Arthur Street now forms the lower half of what was St. Martin’s Lane (you need to zoom in on the above Google map for the street names to appear).

Today, St. Martin’s Lane has also been abbreviated to Martin Lane.

The original London Bridge was further to the east than the current bridge, John Rocque’s map shows the bridge up against the church of St. Magnus. The London Bridge that replaced the one shown in Rocque’s map was built slightly further to the west, allowing the original bridge to continue in use until the new bridge was opened in 1831.

Ticket Porter Map 2

The following extract from Cruchley’s New Plan Of London Improved to 1835 shows the new London Bridge opened a few years earlier, with Fish Street Hill, the approach road to the original London Bridge now terminating at the river. Cutting across from St. Martin’s Lane, across King William Street to Fish Street Hill is Arthur Street.

1835 London Bridge 1

So, Arthur Street may well have been part of the changes in the area when the new London Bridge was built, originally to provide access up to King William Street and London Bridge from the surrounding roads.

At some point after 1835, Arthur Street was changed again to terminate on King William Street and down to Upper Thames Street, cutting in half St. Martin’s Lane. I suspect this change was soon after 1835 as licensing records from the 1840s give an Arthur Street address for the Ticket Porter pub.

Having established how Arthur Street may have come into existence, what about the pub?

Although there were probably more, I have only been able to find references to two pubs called The Ticket Porter. One in Moorfields and the one in Arthur Street.

The pub takes its name from those who were employed as Ticket Porters across London. The job of a Ticket Porter was to transport and carry goods across London. Ticket Porters who worked at the riverside would be responsible for the transport of goods to and from ships whilst Ticket Porters who worked in the streets would transport goods and parcels between London locations, so if a London Bookseller wanted to deliver a parcel of books to a customer, they would call on the services of a Ticket Porter.

Ticket Porters could be identified by the pewter badge that they wore, bearing the arms of the City of London.

Hogarth includes a Ticket Porter in his drawing “Beer Street”:


©Trustees of the British Museum

In the lower right of Beer Street can be seen a man drinking from a large tankard of beer. Across his chest can be seen the badge of the Ticket Porter and below him is a tied up bundle of books which he has set down whilst getting some refreshment during his journey across London.

The role of Ticket Porter also gave the name to the drink Porter, which they consumed on benches and tables set outside many London pubs as the thousands of men employed as Ticket Porters crossed London with their loads.

Hogarth’s drawing Beer Street was published to show the virtues of drinking beer rather than Gin. His Gin Lane drawing shows the drunken state to which Gin drinkers have descended whilst Beer Street shows a healthy, working population, even with the ability (as can be seen above) to work at height on the roofs of buildings. Health and safety was not the same in the 18th century.

To add to the positive images in the drawing, the text at the bottom reads:

Beer, happy Produce of our Isle,

Can sinewy Strength impart,

And wearied with fatique and Toil,

Can chear each manly Heart,

Labour and Art upheld by Thee

Succesfully advance,

We quaff Thy balmy Juice with Glee

And Water leave to France.

Genius of Health, thy grateful Taste

Rivals the Cup of Jove,

And warms each English generous Breast

With Liberty and Love

The next time I am in a London pub I will certainly be thinking of Hogarth’s words to justify the many benefits of a few pints of beer!

Compare the virtues of Beer Street and the Ticket Porter with the depravity of Gin Street:


©Trustees of the British Museum

Gin cursed Fiend with Fury fraught,

Makes human Race a Prey,

It enters by a deadly Draught,

And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth driven to Despair,

It’s Rage compels to fly,

But cherishes with bullish Care,

Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damn’d Cup! that on the Vitals preys,

That liquid Fire contains,

Which Madness to the Heart conveys,

And rolls it thro’ the Veins.

Beer drinkers did not always achieve Hogarth’s high standards. The Old Bailey records include the case of a Mr James Collins who at the age of 67 was sentenced to 5 years of  “penal servitude” for unlawfully using counterfeit coin in the Ticket Porter pub.

At 7:30 on the evening of the 5th February 1870 James Collins had bought two glasses of ale and each time paid with a shilling which the barmaid (Ann Hawkins, also the daughter of the licensee of the pub) had found to be “bad”. Ann had asked for the change she had given James Collins back, when he refused she called the police and gave the bad shillings to the constable who attended.

James Collins defence in court was “I was not aware I had any bad money about me; I was very drunk.” Confirmation that the shillings were “bad” was not from any official but from a Pawnbroker from Bishopsgate Street, a Mr John Althon who confirmed to the court that both shillings were “bad”.

Hogarth would not have approved.

As ever when I am looking for the locations of my father’s photos I will take a walk around the area. I found the following on the side of The Olde Wine Shades in Martin Lane and I have no idea what is it. It looks old, and is built into a brick arch behind what looks like a layer of concrete. I could not work out the function it was meant to perform.

Ticket Porter 4

Another view from Martin Lane showing the location to the side of The Olde Wine Shades:

Ticket Porter 5

Any information as to what this is would be really appreciated.

The Ticket Porter is a long lost London pub, however it provides us with a reminder of one of the many jobs that provided employment to Londoners, and how these jobs were seen within the issues of the day as captured by Hogarth.

Climbing The Caledonian Park Clock Tower

I have long wanted to see inside the Caledonian Park Clock Tower and the Open House London weekend provided the opportunity to do so, with tours available on the Saturday, so on a warm, sunny afternoon I was in Caledonian Park ready for the climb.

Referring back to yesterday’s post, the Clock Tower from the south. The old Copenhagen House would have been just in front and to the left of the Clock Tower.

Caledonian Clock Tower 12

At the base of the tower are plaques recording the march in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the original Copenhagen Fields and House.

Plaques 1

Once inside the base of the tower, a spiral staircase provides access to the first floor:

Caledonian Clock Tower 1

Further up the tower, the first glimpse of the view to come from the top:

Caledonian Clock Tower 3

Along with the weights that drive the clock.

Caledonian Clock Tower 2

The clock has not been converted to an electric system, the original mechanical clock is still in place, driven by weights and needing to be wound once a week.

The weights have almost half the height of the tower to fall when the clock is fully wound to provide a reasonably long running period.

Caledonian Clock Tower 10

On the floor below the clock mechanism is the pendulum. Fully operational with a smooth sweep back and forth. The bottom part of the near vertical wooden steps to climb between floors can just be seen below the pendulum.

Caledonian Clock Tower 4

On the next floor is the clock mechanism. In place since the original construction of the Clock Tower:

Caledonian Clock Tower 5

One of the dials recording that the clock was constructed by John Moore & Sons of Clerkenwell in 1856. Founded in 1790, John Moore & Sons operated from Clerkenwell Close for the whole of the 19th century, finally moving to Spencer Street in 1900 where they would remain for a further 20 years, mainly as watch makers. As well as the Caledonian Park Clock Tower, mechanisms manufactured by John Moore & Sons can still be found in many churches including St. Michael, Wood Green, St. Mary the Virgin in Mortlake and Holy Trinity Church in Fareham.

There have been a few restorations of the clock in the intervening 155 years, however it is still essentially the same as when it was first installed.

Caledonian Clock Tower 6

Other dials record later restorations. John Smith & Sons of Derby in 1993:

Caledonian Clock Tower 25

On the next floor up is the mechanism that takes the single drive from the clock on the floor below and drives four rods, one to each of the four clock faces on each side of the clock tower. Unfortunately the actual mechanism was hidden within a large wooden box.

Caledonian Clock Tower 7

One of the clock faces. The rod running from the right drives the clock and the gearing in the middle is the reduction drive so that both the minute and hour hands can be driven from the single drive.

Caledonian Clock Tower 24

The final set of steps provides access to the viewing gallery around the top of the Clock Tower. Through a small doorway, facing due south and straight into the following view across the whole sweep of central London and to the hills beyond.

Caledonian Clock Tower 11

Canary Wharf:

Caledonian Clock Tower 13

The City of London:

Caledonian Clock Tower 28

St. Paul’s Cathedral on the western edge of the City. When the Clock Tower was originally built. the city horizon would have seemed very flat with the exception of St. Paul’s and the steeples of the City churches.

Caledonian Clock Tower 22

The chimney of Tate Modern:

Caledonian Clock Tower 21

The Shell Centre building on the south bank and the London Eye:

Caledonian Clock Tower 20

The walkway around the Clock Tower is not that wide and the railings around the edge did not seem very high given the height of the Clock Tower.

Caledonian Clock Tower 16

Moving round to the east, the Olympic Park and the ArcelorMittal Orbit:

Caledonian Clock Tower 17And a bit further round, the Arsenal Emirates Stadium:

Caledonian Clock Tower 14Alexandra Palace:

Caledonian Clock Tower 15Looking to the south west, with the BT Tower in the centre. The area now covered by trees, the block of flats to the right and the sports pitches were all part of the Cattle Market.

Caledonian Clock Tower 29

The view looking down onto the park. The area occupied by the park, the football pitches and the sports complex were also part of the Cattle Market. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any photos taken from the tower whilst the market was in operation. It must have been an impressive sight on a busy market day.

Caledonian Clock Tower 27

Above the viewing gallery are the bells, not used having been out of action for many years.

Caledonian Clock Tower 18

As with the clock, the bells are original. The main bell showing 1856 as the year of manufacture:

Caledonian Clock Tower 19

It was about 10 to 15 minutes at the top of the tower, it went far too quickly when there was so much to take in, however It was time to climb back down through the doorway, and take one last look at London:

Caledonina Clock Tower 26

The Caledonian Clock Tower is a fantastic survival from the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Largely unchanged since first built and faithful to James Bunstone Bunning’s original design. It is a Grade II* listed building to recognise the important part the Clock Tower played in London’s commercial and industrial heritage. Long may it survive.

Caledonian Park – History, Murals And A Fire

Caledonian Park in north London in the Borough of Islington is today a green space in a busy part of London, with few reminders of the areas rich history.

I have much to write about Caledonian Park so I will cover in two posts this weekend. Today some historical background to the area, some lost murals and finding the location of one of my father’s photos. Tomorrow, climbing the Victorian Clock Tower at the heart of the park to see some of the most stunning views of London.

Caledonian Park is a relatively recent name. Taking its name from the nearby Caledonian Road which in turn was named after the Caledonian Asylum which was established nearby in 1815 for the “children of Scottish parents”.

Prior to the considerable expansion of London in the 19th century, the whole area consisted of open fields and went by the name of Copenhagen Fields. There was also a Copenhagen House located within the area of the current park.

The origin of the Copenhagen name is probably down to the use of the house (or possibly the construction of the house) by the Danish Ambassador for use as a rural retreat from the City of London during the Great Plague of 1665.

Copenhagen House became an Inn during the early part of the 18th century and the fields were used for sport, recreation and occasionally as an assembly point for demonstrations, or as Edward Walford described in Old and New London, the fields were “the resort of Cockney lovers, Cockney sportsmen and Cockney agitators”

The following print shows Copenhagen House from the south east in 1783, still a very rural location.

1125319001 ©Trustees of the British Museum

During the last part of the 18th century, Copenhagen Fields was often used as a meeting point for many of the anti-government demonstrations of the time. Old and New London by Walter Thornbury has a description of these meetings:

“In the early days of the French Revolution, when the Tories trembled with fear and rage, the fields near Copenhagen House were the scene of those meetings of the London Corresponding Society, which so alarmed the Government. The most threatening of these was held on October 26, 1795, when Thelwall, and other sympathisers with France and liberty, addressed 40,000, and threw out hints that the mob should surround Westminster on the 29th, when the King would go to the House. The hint was attended to, and on that day the King was shot at, but escaped unhurt.”

The meetings and threats from groups such as the Corresponding Societies led to the Combination Acts of 1799 which legislated against the gathering of men for a common purpose. It was this repression that also contributed to the Cato Street Conspiracy covered in my post which can be found here.

The following is a satirical print from 1795 by James Gillray of a meeting on Copenhagen Fields “summoned by the London Corresponding Society” which was “attended by more than a hundred thousand persons”.


©Trustees of the British Museum

Copenhagen Fields continued to be used for gatherings. In April 1834 there was a meeting in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, who had been sentenced to transportation to Australia for forming a trade union. Walter Thornbury provides the following description: “an immense number of persons of the trades’ unions assembled in the Fields, to form part of a procession of 40,000 men to Whitehall to present an address to his Majesty, signed by 260,000 unionists on behalf of their colleagues who had been convicted at Dorchester for administering illegal oaths”.

The final large meeting to be held in Copenhagen Fields was in 1851 in support of an exiled Hungarian revolutionary leader. The role of this rural location was about to change very dramatically.

Smithfield in the city was originally London’s main cattle market however during the first half of the 19th century the volume of animals passing through the market and the associated activities such as the slaughter houses were getting unmanageable in such a densely populated part of central London.

The City of London Corporation settled on Copenhagen Fields as the appropriate location for London’s main cattle market and purchased Copenhagen House and the surrounding fields in 1852. The site was ideal as it was still mainly open space, close enough to London, and near to a number of the new railway routes into north London.

Copenhagen House was demolished and the construction of the new market, designed by the Corporation of London Architect, James Bunstone Bunning was swiftly underway, opening on the 13th June 1855.

A ground penetrating radar survey of the area commissioned by Islington Council in 2014 identified the location of Copenhagen House as (when viewed from the park to the south of the Clock Tower) just in front and to the left of the Clock Tower.

The sheer scale of the new market was impressive. In total covering seventy five acres and built at a cost of £500,000. There were 13,000 feet of railings to which the larger animals could be tied and 1,800 pens for up to 35,000 sheep.

Market days were Mondays and Thursdays for cattle, sheep and pigs, and Fridays for horses, donkeys and goats. The largest market of the year was held just before Christmas. In the last Christmas market at Smithfield in 1854, the number of animals at the market was 6,100. At the first Christmas market at the new location, numbers had grown to 7,000 and by 1863 had reached 10,300.

The following Aerofilms photo from 1931 shows the scale of the market. The clock tower at the centre of the market is also at the centre of the photo with the central market square along with peripheral buildings in the surrounding streets.


The 1930 edition of Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of London shows the location and size of the market:

Caledonian map 1

As well as the cattle market, the construction included essential infrastructure to support those working and visiting the market. Four large public houses were built, one on each of the corners of the central square. The following Aerofilms photo from 1928, shows three of the pubs at corners of the main square. The two large buildings to the left of the photo are hotels, also constructed as part of the market facilities

The clock tower is located in the middle, at the base of the clock tower are the branch offices of several banks, railway companies, telegraph companies along with a number of shops.


A 19th century drawing shows the clock tower and the long sheds that covered much of the market:


By the time of the First World War, the cattle market had started to decline and was finally closed in 1939 at the start of the Second World War, with the site then being used by the army.

After the war, the slaughter houses around the market continued to be used up until 1964, when the London County Council and the Borough of Islington purchased the site ready for redevelopment. The Market Housing Estate was built on much of the site, although by the 1980s the physical condition of the estate had started to decline significantly, and the estate had a growing problem with drugs and prostitution. Housing blocks were built up close to the clock tower and there was limited green space with many concrete paved areas surrounding the housing blocks and the clock tower.

A second redevelopment of the area was planned and planning permission granted in 2005. The last of the Market Estate housing blocks was demolished in 2010 and it this latest development which occupies much of the area today.

In 1982 a number of murals illustrating the history of the market were painted on the ground floor exterior of the main Clock Tower building of the original Market Estate. In 1986 my father took some photos of the murals during a walk round Islington. As far as I know, these murals were lost during the later redevelopment of the area.

The introductory mural providing some history of the market:

Cattle Market Murals 1

A scene showing the opening of the market by Prince Albert in 1855. A lavishly decorated marquee hosted a thousand invited guests to mark the opening of the market.

Cattle Market Murals 2

The central clock tower painted on the Clock Tower building of the housing estate:

Cattle Market Murals 3

Other scenes from around the market:

Cattle Market Murals 4

Cattle Market Murals 5

As well as the photos of the murals, almost 40 years earlier in 1948 my father had taken a photo of the aftermath of a fire. I was unsure where this was and I published the photo below a few weeks ago in my post on mystery locations.

Old Pub Road 1

One of the messages I had in response to this post (my thanks to Tom Miler), was that the building at the back of the photo looked like one of the pubs at the Caledonian Market.

I took a walk around the periphery of the site trying to work out which of the streets and pubs could be the location of my father’s photo and found the following:

Pub Road 1

This, I am sure, is the location of my father’s photo. The street is Shearling Way running along the eastern edge of Caledonian Park. I probably should have been a bit further back to take the photo, however the rest of the road was closed and full of cars unloading students into the student accommodation that now occupies the southern end of Shearling Way – an indication of how much the area has changed.

The pub is hidden behind the tree, although it is in the same position and the chimneys are clearly the same and in the right position. The old yards and sheds that had burnt down on the right of the original photo have been replaced by housing.

I was really pleased to find the location of this photo, it is one I thought I would not be able to place in modern day London.

This Aerofilms photo from 1948 shows the pub from the above photo at the top left of the main market square with the road running up to the right. Above the road is the area that was the scene of the fire.


This is another photo of the scene of the fire and the housing in the background can also be seen in the above Aerofilms photo, further confirming the location.

Unknown Locations 17

Walking down the street I took the following photo of the pub, the front of the pub has the same features as on the 1948 photo.

Pub 1

The pub was The Lamb, unfortunately, as with the other pubs on the corners of the old cattle market, it is now closed.

To the left of the first half of the street, adjacent to the park, the original market railings are still in place:

Market Railings 1

A short time after the opening of the Cattle Market, a general or flea market had become established alongside. This market grew considerably and was generally known as the Cally Market, a place where almost anything could be found for sale. By the start of the 20th century, the size of the Cally Market had outgrown the original Cattle Market.

The journalist and author H.V. Morton visited the market for his newspaper articles on London and later consolidated in his book “London” (published in 1925) and wrote the following:

“When I walked into this remarkable once a week junk fair I was deeply touched to think that any living person could need many of the things displayed for sale. For all round me, lying on sacking, were the driftwood and wreckage of a thousand lives: door knobs, perambulators in extremis, bicycle wheels, bell wire, bed knobs, old clothes, awful pictures, broken mirrors, unromantic china goods, gaping false teeth, screws, nuts, bolts and vague pieces of rusty iron, whose mission in life, or whose part and portion of a whole, Time had obliterated.”

The Cally Market was also used during both the first and second world wars for major fund raising events. This poster from the first world war:

IWM PST 10955

 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 10955)

Along with the murals, my father took a photo of the Clock Tower in 1986. The original housing blocks that reached up to the clock tower can be seen on either side. The clock tower is surrounded by concrete paving.

Old Tower View 1

This is the same scene in 2015 from roughly the same point (although I should have been more to the left). The old housing blocks have been demolished and the clock tower is now surrounded by green space.

New Tower View 1

Looking at the above photo, the wooden steps that provide the route up inside the Clock Tower can be seen through the two windows.

Join me for tomorrow’s post as I climb the tower to the viewing gallery at the top for some of the best views across London.