The 1980s were a boom time for large, colourful murals across London, and for today’s post I am revisiting two of these, to find the sad fate of two Greenwich murals.
Walk east along Creek Road which leaves central Greenwich near the Cutty Sark DLR station, turn right down Horseferry Place, and in 1986 you would have seen the El Salvador mural in all its pristine colours, as photographed by my father:
I recently visited the site, and found the mural in a very sad condition. Very faded and with Sky satellite dishes and a number of lights installed across the mural:
The El Salvador mural, or as it was originally titled “Changing the Picture”, was created for the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign in 1985, the year before my father’s photo.
The El Salvador Solidarity Campaign was based in Islington Park Street and was formed to express support for the people of El Salvador.
El Salvador is a country in central America and during the 1980s was suffering from a violent Civil War that would not really end until 1993, and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of the country’s population.
The civil war was mainly a conflict between the left wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), supported by the neighbouring countries of Nicaragua and Cuba, and the Government of the country, supported by the United States.
The people of the country paid a terrible price during the civil war. There were atrocities committed by both sides, however the military of El Salvador along with “Death Squads” who operated outside the official knowledge of the military or government, would commit the majority.
As well as the internal issues within the country, it was also a proxy conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, with US concern about the potential growth of Communist supporting governments in central America, which could have been the outcome if the US supported government had fallen to the FMLN.
There were a number of international groups supporting the people of El Salvador and the FMLN, including in the US and the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign in London.
The aim of the mural is to show the ordinary people of El Salvador (on the right) taking back control of their country, lives and future by “rolling up the picture”.
The people on the right are depicted in bright colours, with more muted, grey colours for the military, and the military / industrial support that contributed large quantities of arms to the country.
I believe the following extract from the mural shows Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher to the left with a figure representing El Salvador’s military on the right, controlling a puppet soldier:
Whilst the mural was commissioned by the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign, it was funded by the Greater London Council (GLC), and support of initiatives such as the mural was one of the many reasons why the Conservative government of the 1980s would abolish the GLC at the end of March 1986.
The mural was created by the artist Jane Gifford, along with Nick Cuttermole, Sergio Navarro and Rosie Skaife D’Ingerthorpe.
I could not get a photo of the mural at the same angle as my father’s. He was standing in the adjacent school playground, and today this is completely fenced.
The following view shows a wider view of the El Salvador mural, on the side of Macey House which is part of the Meridian Estate:
Macey House is on Horseferry Place, a road that leads down towards the Thames. The name of the road records a ferry that once ran from near the southern end of the road across to the Isle of Dogs.
A short distance from the El Salvador mural, heading back towards Greenwich, along Creek Road was the “Wind of Peace” mural, at point number 2 on the above map:
Although the El Salvador mural is very badly faded, the Wind of Peace has suffered an even worse fate – the mural, along with the building on which it was painted, have completely disappeared.
In the photo below, there is a large new building on the left, with a terrace of smaller buildings further back, heading along Creek Road back into the centre of Greenwich.
The mural was on a building which stood where the large building with the clock is now located. The mural was on the side wall and would have been facing the camera.
The development on the left leading back into Greenwich was following the completion of the Cutty Sark DLR station, which is accessed through a pathway to the left of the van, at the junction of the large and smaller buildings.
The Wind of Peace mural was commissioned by the London Muralists for Peace initiative, as part of the 1983, Greater London Council’s Peace Year.
The mural was painted by artists Stephen Lobb and Carol Kenna, and replaced an earlier mural showing the river and the land alongside the river in Greenwich.
The mural has Greenwich in the centre of the mural, with the residents flying around the view of Greenwich, resisting and destroying missiles which symbolised the threat of nuclear war.
The GLC 1983 Peace Year comprised not just murals, but a whole series of events throughout London. A typical newspaper campaign advert covered:
“Peace is the most important issue facing us all. London could not survive a nuclear holocaust, irrespective of whether it is triggered by miscalculation in Washington or Moscow.
The GLC has declared 1983 Peace Year to give Londoners the opportunity of making a personal commitment to this highest of human ideals.
There can be no better way for people to express their desire for peace than through the Arts. That is why a major part of GLC Peace Year activities will involve supporting drama, film and the visual arts.
Come along and enjoy GLC Peace Year events and activities listed below. Support the cause of peace in London and give a peaceful lead to the world.
April 3 Easter Parade featuring specially commissioned Peace Float, Battersea Park at 3pm
May 1 May Day Festival, Victoria Park – at noon
May 5 Songwriters Competition for Peace – launch
June 4 Free Music Concert for Peace, crystal Palace Bowl at noon
July 16 Peace Concert of Classical Music, Kenwood Lakeside at 8pm
August 6 Hiroshima Day Peace Festival, Victoria Park at noon
August 7 Peace Concert of Classical Music, crystal Palace Bowl at 8pm”
There were many more events in addition to those listed above, including a Festival for Peace at Brockwell Park on May the 7th, which included the Damned, Madness and Hazel O’Conner.
As well as the Arts, Peace Year included other projects such as the construction of a number of “peace gardens” across London, such as the Noel-Baker Peace Garden in Islington.
The civil war in El Salvador ended almost thirty years ago, and the mural is gradually fading as are memories of the war (although the country still does suffer from some instability, including the recent bizarre decision to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender within the country).
The Wind of Peace mural disappeared as did the apparent threat of nuclear war, however with current unpredictable world events – perhaps it may be time for another mural.
The hosting provider for the blog moved the blog to a new server infrastructure earlier last week. Apart from problems getting e-mail working again, everything seems to be working, however this will be the first post to be sent out via the e-mail subscription service, so I hope it is received. As well as the blog being moved, the weather last Wednesday was wonderful, so I did what seemed a good choice on a day of sunny weather, I headed to the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, to the western side of Island Gardens, one of the best places to stop and take in the view across the river to Greenwich:
Island Gardens are relatively small, but a very welcome area of green, open space facing onto the river. View through the trees of the four chimneys of the old Greenwich power station across the Thames:
It would have been easy to stop and watch the river for some time, however after a walk from Poplar Station on the DLR, I wanted to cross to the other side of the river before the sun set too low on a late autumn day.
There are almost identical entrances to the Greenwich foot tunnel on both sides of the river. This is the entrance in Island Gardens, with a low sun directly behind the entrance:
On the opposite side of the river, the translucent glass roof of the Greenwich entrance can be seen alongside the Cutty Sark:
The Greenwich Foot Tunnel was one of a number of tunnels constructed under the River Thames in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those wanting to travel between the north and south sides of the river had long been restricted to a ferry, or long journey to the nearest bridge in central London.
A single tunnel Blackwall Tunnel had opened in 1897, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902, the Rotherhithe Tunnel in 1908 and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel in 1912.
A period of fifteen years that had opened up a range of new routes to travel between opposite sides of the River Thames, no doubt one of the benefits of having the London County Council responsible for major works across the city.
A foot tunnel for those who lived and worked on different sides of the river, or who had business that needed a crossing, had been identified as an urgent need for a number of decades in the second half of the 19th century, however it was not until the final five years of the century that the scheme would get underway.
On the 12th May 1896, newspapers were reporting that a Bill for the tunnel was to be put before Parliament:
“PROPOSED NEW THAMES TUNNEL. A LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL SCHEME – The Bridges Committee of the London County Council have prepared a report, to come before the Council today, recommending that application should be made to Parliament for power to construct a foot passenger tunnel to connect Greenwich and Millwall, at an estimated cost of £75,000, and that the Parliamentary Committee of the Council be instructed to prepare the necessary Bill, to be introduced in the Session of 1897.
The report states that, in addition to the above amount, which is the estimated cost of land and works for the proposed tunnel, a sum of not less than £25,000 as the law at present demands, would have to be paid as compensation to persons interested in a ferry which exists at the spot in question; but it is hoped that the Council will succeed in obtaining a clause by which ‘improvement of interest will be considered, thereby reducing this amount very considerably.’
The plan is to have a tunnel with a footway of eight feet, and a headway of rather more than nine feet in the centre, reduced to a minimum of seven feet and a half at the outsides. Electricity is to be used for lighting the tunnel, as also for working the ventilating and pumping machinery. The time required for the execution of the works is expected to be about twelve months, Calculations are given to show that the proposed tunnel would be a more economical provision than establishing a free ferry.”
The London County Council estimated a cost of £75,000 for the construction of the tunnel, and this was the value put forward in the Bill to Parliament, however as with almost every major civil engineering project since, the cost would turn out to be much higher.
The council invited tenders for the construction of the tunnel, and the winning tender was from Messrs. J. Cochrane with a price more than one third above the estimated cost. The Bridges Committee recommended that the council accept the bid, however the council were not happy and wanted the additional third of the estimated cost to come from “local or other sources”, however when put to the vote, the recommendation of the Bridges Committee was accepted and the work would soon commence.
The new tunnel was opened on the 4th of August 1902.
The route down to the tunnel is via several flights of stairs from the entrance in Island Gardens. The lifts are currently out of use.
Spiral stairs line the inner wall of the shaft, with the central space being used for the lift:
From the bottom of the Island Gardens shaft, the view along the tunnel towards Greenwich:
In the above photo, a cream coloured section can be seen a short distance along the tunnel.
The section is the temporary war time repairs following damage caused to the tunnel by the nearby explosion of a high explosive bomb. A closer view is seen in the photo below, and there is an information panel on the left:
The damage to the tunnel happened on the evening of the 7th September 1940, when a bomb exploded on the foreshore, over the route of the tunnel.
Within the tunnel, the blast caused the outer tiles and inner concrete lining of the tunnel to collapse over the length of the tunnel now covered by the temporary repairs. The outer iron lining appears to have held, however this was now leaking and water was entering the tunnel to such an extent that a week after the bombing, the tunnel was full of water.
The tunnel was such a key part of the local infrastructure, providing workers living on the south of the river with easy access to the docks, ship yards and factories in the Isle of Dogs and east London, that a repair of the tunnel was essential.
It took around ten days to pump out the majority of the water, enough that work could start on repairs.
Being wartime, a temporary repair was put in place, consisting of a length of iron collars bolted together to line the damaged area, and effectively form a smaller tunnel within the larger tunnel. At the time, these repairs were considered sufficient to last the war, following which, more permanent repairs could be put in place, and the tunnel restored to its original size.
As well as infrastructure projects always running well over their initial budget estimates, temporary repairs also often become permanent, and so it is with the repairs in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and the cream coloured iron rings, reducing the diameter of the tunnel, are still the result of the original 1940 repair work.
Walking through the temporary repairs and at the end we can see the tunnel continuing on down to the lowest point roughly under the center of the Thames.
Now we are roughly in the center of the tunnel, it is a good place to stop and consider the original construction.
I have a fascinating little booklet called “The Greenwich Footway Tunnel by William Giles Copperthwaite and Subaqueous Tunneling Through The Thames Gravel: Baker Street and Waterloo Railway by Arthur Harry Haigh”.
The booklet is an extract of the proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was published in 1902, the year the Greenwich foot tunnel opened. It is a wonderful little booklet with details of tunneling below London and the impact of the geology through which the tunnels are constructed.
The first part of work to build the tunnel was the sinking of the shafts down to the point where the tunnel could start to be bored under the Thames.
The shafts were formed by sinking a caisson around the edge of the shaft, as the shaft was gradually excavated. A caisson is basically a hollow ring of iron or steel that forms a tube from top to bottom of the shaft and provides the strength to stop the sides of the shaft collapsing inwards, or the walls deforming.
The shafts, as with the whole of the tunnel, were constructed in an environment of compressed air. This method was used to control the ingress of ground water and to provide some support to the ground through which the tunnel is being bored. The use of compressed air did require some additional support for the workers, and faclities such as air locks to provide access to the work face.
The following diagram shows the method of sinking the caissons. The shaft was sunk through the water level which was found at a depth of 35 feet, from which point, construction continued using compressed air.
The caissons, today the walls of the shaft, are made up of two steel rings. The outer diameter of the shaft is 43 feet, and the inner diameter is 35 feet. Allowing for the width of the two steel rings (one outer, one inner), there was a four foot gap between the two rings of the shaft. This was filled with a mix of 6 to 1 Portland cement concrete. The use of concrete as a filling between the two rings meant that accurate construction and fitting of the rings was essential as once the concrete was poured, there was no way to make any further adjustments.
This method of construction created a pair of incredibly strong shafts on either side of the river, and the weight of the caisson forming the wall of the Poplar shaft was a remarkable 2,560 tons.
Compressed air was put in place from the 2nd of May, and the following table records the depth below the surface achieved each day until completion of the Poplar shaft on the 31st May, 1900.
The table also shows the accuracy of the excavation by the very small amounts that the cutting edge was out of level. The increasing weight of the caisson can be seen by the load on the shaft.
The following drawing shows the route of the tunnel between the Poplar and Greenwich shafts. Note that just above the Greenwich shaft is the Ship Tavern. This pub was badly damaged during the war, demolished, and the Cutty Sark is now on the site of the pub.
The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel. As will be seen in my photos of the tunnel today, the tunnel descends from both shafts with a gradient of 1 in 15 feet, down to the central part of the tunnel where it passes under the deepest part of the Thames.
The diagram also shows the type of material that was being excavated through, and was a key consideration in the tunneling method used.
The drawing is a text book example of how to present lots of information in a single drawing. As well as the key lengths, gradients of the tunnel, high and low water level of the Thames, depth of water, dimensions of the shafts etc. the Progress of Tunneling at the bottom of the drawing shows how the tunnel was making its way under the river through 1900 and 1901 as it started from the Poplar shaft and headed to the Greenwich shaft.
Newspapers reported on reaching the half-way point:
“IT IS NOW HALF-WAY TOWARDS COMPLETION – A new tunnel between Poplar and Greenwich is another step in the piercings of the river bed which the London County Council splendidly inaugurated with the making of the Blackwall Tunnel.
The new tunnel will be opened to the public in about a year’s time, and, inasmuch as it is being made wholly in the interests of working men, it might be called the ‘Working Men’s Tunnel’. From shaft to shaft it will measure 1217 feet in length, and will cost about £109,500. The depth of the tunnel at the centre of the river is about 72 feet below the ground line, while the shafts have been sunk to an average depth of 63 feet.
At no part will the top of the tunnel be less than 13 feet below the river bed. No fewer than 1600 tons of cast iron tubing will be used in building the tunnel which will be lighted by electricity. You will approach the tunnel from the Greenwich side from the north end of Church Street, in the rear of the famous Ship Tavern; and on the Millwall side at the Western end of Island Gardens. Some such easy means of communication between one shore and another has long been needed, and many thousands of people will daily find it very handy once it is opened to the public.”
The lining of the tunnel was made up of cast-iron segments, of which eight segments and one key piece formed a complete ring around the tunnel. The lining was 12 feet, 9 inches in outer diameter and 11 feet 9 inches internal diameter.
The following drawing shows a cross section of the tunnel, including the lining, and ducts for services such as electrical wiring, ventilation pipes and cable conduits.
The interior of the tunnel was lined with white glazed tiling, which is still in place today.
The booklet includes some wonderful detail of sections of the tunnel lining:
The washers where the bolts secured the sections together were made using a short section of lead pipe. When the bolt was tightened, the lead would compress forming a water tight seal around the bolt.
Lead wire and iron filings were used to fill any spaces between sections, and the method of construction was so successful, that when air pressure was removed at the end of construction, only a dozen places had a small problem with water ingress and needed repair.
The tunnel was constructed using a shield of the type known as a trap or box shield, which the booklet describes as follows:
“The trap consisting of two diaphragms, the front one filling the upper half and the back one the lower half, of the circle enclosed by the cylindrical skin of the shield.
The bottom of the front diaphragm is a few inches lower than the top of the back one. In the event of an inrush of water from a ‘blow’ occurring at the face, the water must flow over the top diaphragm to get into the tunnel, and before it rises high enough to do this, the bottom of the top diaphragm is under water, and all escape of air through the shield is stopped. the water in fact becomes a seal to hold the air.”
The above description simplifies the design, construction and use of the shield, and cross sections through the shield as used at Greenwich are shown in the following drawings.
The central box formed a water tight chamber, and the shield consisted of thirteen rams for pushing the shield forward, and together exert a pressure of 1.5 tons per square inch, and a total thrust to push the shield forward of 750 tons.
The design of the shield was changed as it progressed on its route under the Thames, as improvements were identified and as different types of strata were encountered.
This included putting doors in the upper part of the shield, as well as the lower, giving workers an additional method of exit if there were problems at the face of the tunnel. It was noticed that after these additional doors were added, workers were more inclined to stay at the face of the shield after there had been a fall of material, as they had a higher route of exit than before.
As well as the safety of workers at the shield face, another consideration was the conditions of working in an environment where compressed air was used. As well as care of their workers, there was also probably a financial motivation as the Act of Parliament authorising the tunnel included compensation to those whose health had been damaged by working in compressed air. Compensation seemed rather limited though as a total of £20 had been awarded to three workers.
Two medical officers were appointed to oversee the construction of the tunnel. Those working in the tunnel were examined at least once a week and before anyone could commence work, they had to have a certificate of health from the medical officers.
Of those who applied to work on the tunnel, 13.9% were found to be unfit to work on initial examination, and of those who passed the medical, a further 5.7% were found to be affected by the increased air pressure, and forbidden to continue work in the tunnel.
Men worked an 8 hour shift with a rest period of 45 minutes, during which time they had to exit the tunnel.
Rooms were available with washing facilities at the construction site for the workers, and hot coffee was served as they left the tunnel.
A “medical lock” was available for treating those with “caisson-sickness”, probably similar to today where a diver has to decompress in a chamber. Only three workers needed to make use of this facility during the construction of the tunnel.
A concern with tunnel construction was the potential build up of carbon dioxide, and as the construction of the tunnel progressed, an experiment was approved whereby an apparatus was made and installed to removed carbon dioxide. This consisted of a series of wooden boxes bolted together. In each wooden box there was an amount of crushed pumice stone. Air was passed through the boxes, and it was found that deposits of carbonate of soda were found on the pumice stone, and that the experiment did result in the removal of some of the carbon dioxide in the air within the tunnel.
Construction of the tunnel was relatively straight forward given the technologies of the time, and construction methods were able to adapt to the changing sand, clay and ballast through which the tunnel was being bored. For a period between the 22nd February and the 1st May 1901, an impressive 10 feet per day was being achieved in driving the tunnel forward.
The tunnel met the Greenwich shaft without any problems, and minor precautions were made to stop any fall of sand or ballast from the area around the shaft as the tunnel was completed.
The Isle of Dogs and Greenwich were finally connected by a walking route.
In the following photo, the incline up to the Greenwich shaft from the centre of the tunnel can be seen:
I am not sure whether it was my imagination, however standing in the centre of the tunnel, it seemed possible to hear the sound of the occasional passing boat on the river above.
At the start of the incline where the tunnel rises by 1 foot in every 15 feet, up to Greenwich:
Almost at the Greenwich end of the tunnel looking down the incline:
Approaching the Greenwich end of the tunnel, and it looks as if we are approaching an entrance to some secret infrastructure below London – unfortunately it is only the closed entrance to the lift which should be operating.
The tunnel today is brightly lit and there is a frequent flow of walkers through the tunnel. It has not always been this way, and as the docks and industries closed on either side of the river the numbers walking through declined and there were times during the 1980s when you needed to be cautious when using the tunnel.
A final look down the Greenwich foot tunnel:
The Greenwich shaft is slightly deeper than the Island Gardens shaft. I counted 87 steps down from Island Gardens, and was rather surprised to count a round number of exactly 100 steps up the Greenwich shaft:
Whilst walking up the shaft, a look up shows the cantilevered steps of the spiral above:
At the top of the steps, one of the current landmarks of Greenwich confirms that you have arrived on the south bank of the River Thames:
But before leaving, another look up shows the wonderful construction of the glass dome that covers the entrance to each shaft:
As well as the bomb damage to the tunnel, the entrance buildings and shafts were also damaged by bombing, with an oil filled incendiary hitting the Island Gardens shaft, causing considerable damage to the lift control equipment. The Greenwich entrance was also hit by an incendiary bomb, but did not suffer as much damage as at the northern shaft.
Plaques above both entrances to the tunnel record the opening in August 1902, along with key figures in the London County Council responsible for the tunnel:
A view of the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel, with the Island Gardens entrance across the river, just to the right:
The original lifts were added in 1904, two years after the tunnel opened, these were attendant operated until the early 21st century. New lifts were installed in 2012, however there have been periods when the lifts were not that reliable, with significant problems with the glass doors closing reliably, and they are currently closed.
A major problem with the lifts is that they are almost a custom design, having to fit inside the original lift space in the centre of the shaft, and also within such a historic structure.
Special parts for the lifts are sourced from Germany, and it is still expected that the lifts will be closed for some months.
Outside the tunnel entrance is an excellent view of the Cutty Sark:
And looking across the river is the ever expanding collection of towers that are growing across the Isle of Dogs:
View to the west, towards the City of London from close to the Greenwich entrance to the tunnel:
Looking east from the entrance to the Greenwich foot tunnel:
The Greenwich foot tunnel was certainly a success, and a major improvement on the ferry which the tunnel replaced.
A ferry had been operating between the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich for hundreds of years, and such was the level of traffic, that from 1883 the Thames Steamboat Company operated a steamboat ferry, which did have problems operating in a very crowded section of the river (hard to believe when looking at the view today just how busy the river has been).
Too often, I walk by the numerous memorials in London with little more than a cursory glance to see if there is anything of specific interest. This is even more true for those that I have walked by so many times, they become a part of the street scene. One such memorial is the Bellot Memorial on the riverside footpath at Greenwich – a slim obelisk on a grass mound between two footpaths.
The base of the obelisk facing the river, has the work Bellot inscribed in large letters.
Whilst on the side facing inland there is some text which gives a partial clue as to who the memorial is commemorating.
The key to finding out who Bellot was, and why he has a memorial on the river path at Greenwich is through the second name.
This is Sir John Franklin, the Arctic explorer and Royal Navy officer.
Franklin was a 19th century experienced Arctic explorer, having been part of three expeditions to explore northern Canada and the Arctic. His fourth and final expedition took place in 1845, where he led two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror on an expedition to explore the final miles of the north west passage, the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the north coast of Canada. Finding such a route would reduce the time to travel between the two oceans significantly and would be a major advantage for the Royal Navy and British trade.
The 1845 expedition was the best equipped to date, and included a supply ship which took additional supplies to be transferred to Erebus and Terror at Greenland, leaving the two ships to head to northern Canada fully supplied.
They left the Thames in May 1845, and after transferring supplies, headed west. The last confirmed sighting of the two ships was on the 26th July 1845. They were not seen again.
They were heading to a place where ships did not travel, forms of communication such as radio were still many decades in the future, so it was expected that there would be no contact with the ships for some time, but after two years there was widespread concern as to the state of the expedition and the fate of the crew of the two ships.
The Illustrated Times of the 1st December 1855 provided some background on Bellot:
“Bellot was a native of Paris, and first saw light in March 1826, his father being by trade a farrier and blacksmith. When Bellot reached the age of five, his father removed from the French capital to Rochefort, and the embryo here was educated in that marine town. In his sixteenth year, Bellot was placed at the naval school of Rochefort, and soon afterwards entered upon his professional career.
From a boy, Bellot was remarkable for his sense of duty, sweetness of temper, and nobility of soul; and, as time passed on, these high and generous qualities not only endured him to his friends, but gave him a strong hold on the hearts of all with him he shared peril and fatigue.
The conduct and career of Lieutenant Bellot in connection with our Arctic expeditions in search of Sir John Franklin, are well known. His own diary, recently published, and read by many with breathless interest, furnishes, of course, the best narrative of adventures and enterprises, and the story becomes more and more enchanting as it proceeds. ‘So often’ says a contemporary, ‘as the Golden Book of Modern Travel comes to be made up, one of its best and brightest pages must be reserved for Joseph Rene Bellot; since rarely, in any age, has love of adventure been ennobled by higher motives and mere unselfish feelings than those which stirred the young French adventurer. The nationality of Bellot, too – his gaiety as well as his goodness – makes his journey peculiarly engaging’.
To indomitable courage and indefatigable perseverance, were added the charms of lightness of heart and poetry of fancy. He seems to have been able ‘to laugh and make laugh’, to dance when a young Orcadian Miss was to be found by way of partner, to read Byron, to think of Scott and to hear about Shakespeare, as if he had been merely one of those Parisian carpet travelers, who imagine adventures in foreign lands, while he lounges homewards, cigar in mouth, as if he had not been a real hero in the hour of danger, hopeful and calm when death was upon him.”
Given his apparent thirst for adventure, an expedition to rescue Franklin must have been a brilliant opportunity for Bellot, so much so, that he participated in two expeditions, the last one would cost him his life.
The first expedition under the command of Captain William Kennedy was during the years 1851 and 1852, and the second, this time under the command of Captain Edward Inglefield, set out later in 1852.
It was during Inglefield’s expedition that Bellot lost his life when “this noble minded officer perished in the Wellington Channel in a gale of wind, by the disruption of ice, whilst carrying dispatches from Beechy Island to Sir Edward Belcher, a service for which he generously volunteered”.
Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and Terror, and the crew of the two ships were never found. Lady Franklin continued supporting searches, including later searches for written records that the expedition may have left, however she died in 1875 with no firm conclusion as to her husband’s fate, apart from the fact that he had died.
After Bellot’s death, there was considerable interest in creating some form of memorial for a French Lieutenant who had died in the search for one of Britain’s Naval heroes and Arctic explorers.
Sir Roderick Murchision, President of the Royal Geographical Society was the Chair of a committee set up to arrange a suitable memorial. Public meetings were held, money was donated and plans were put in place.
The initial plan was for a memorial to be built in Bellot’s home city of Rochefort, however after correspondence with the Mayor of Rochefort it was understood that the city was already planning a memorial, and two separate memorials was not considered the best approach.
The committee therefore decided on Greenwich as a suitable location, as: “Under these circumstances, and being assured that the French government will cordially approve their decision, the committee have come to the conclusion, that Englishmen, wishing to honour in the most emphatic manner the memory of one who was so esteemed and beloved among them as Lieutenant Bellot, should pay to him the same respect as to their own illustrious dead. In this case, if it be decided that a cenotaph, column, or monument be placed on the banks of the Thames, at or near the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, the committee feel assured that every Frenchman who may pass by on the river, or visit our great naval hospital, would see that we had paid to our lamented friend the very highest compliment in our power, and that our tribute was a pledge to be forever before us, and that we desired to perpetuate the mutual good-will which so happily exists between the two nations”.
Over £2,000 was subscribed towards the memorial. the cost was only £500, with the remaining funds being distributed to the sisters of Bellot. The French Emperor, Napoleon III also granted an annuity of 2,000 francs to Bellot’s family.
The following print from soon after the memorial was installed in 1856 shows the obelisk of Aberdeen granite, standing on a grass mound between two walkways along the Thames and in front of the Royal Hospital – as it does today.
Bellot is not just commemorated in Greenwich and Rochefort, there is also a geographic feature named after Bellot. On a previous Arctic expedition he had covered, with William Kennedy, over 1,100 miles on foot and dogsled over the ice. They found a previously unknown feature, a channel of water between Somerset Island to the north and the Boothia Peninsula to the south. This channel of water was named Bellot Strait.
In a very different location to the Bellot Strait, the Bellot memorial looking over the Thames, a stretch of water with which Bellot and Franklin must have been very familiar.
Although scattered remains would be found of the ship and crew, HMS Erebus was only recently discovered in September 2014. The book Erebus, The Story Of A Ship by Michael Palin provides a detailed account of Franklin’s expedition and the discovery of the Erebus.
But the final word must go to Lieutenant Bellot, who wrote a last letter to friends, to be delivered in the event of his death:
“My dear and excellent Friends – If you receive this letter I shall have ceased to exist, but should have quitted life in the performance of a mission of peril and honour. You will see in my journal, which you will find among my effects, that our captain and four men were necessarily left behind in the ice to save the rest; so, after effecting that, we were compelled to go to the assistance of these worthy fellows. Possibly I had no right to run such a risk, knowing how necessary I am to you in every way; but death may probably draw upon the different members of my family, the consideration of men, and the blessings of Heaven – farewell ! to meet again above, if not below, Have faith and courage. God bless you, J. Bellot”
Trinity Hospital Greenwich can be found facing the River Thames, roughly half way between two pubs, the Trafalgar Tavern and the Cutty Sark. In 1951 my father took the following photo of the river facing entrance and clock tower of the hospital, with the chimneys of the adjacent power station behind.
I suspect his thinking in composing the above photo was to show the contrast between what was at the time the almost 350 year old hospital and the relatively recent power station that then dominated the area. The photo also shows two buildings with very different form and function. One enormous building generating electricity from coal for the tram network of London, the other much smaller building providing accommodation for the poor of Greenwich.
On a fine day last Autumn, i was on my way to the Cutty Sark pub, remembered that my father had taken a photo of the hospital and power station chimneys, but did not have a copy of the original photo with me, so took a couple of comparison photos in landscape rather than portrait, but hopefully they show what has changed, and what has not in the past 70 years.
The entrance gates, entrance and clock tower, with the power station in the background.
A slightly wider view showing all four chimneys.
The main difference between the two photos is the build of the chimneys. The power station has four chimneys. The two chimneys in my fathers photo, and to the left in the above photo date from the first stage of the power station which was opened in 1906. The two chimneys of the second stage, shown to the right of the above photo were originally constructed to the same design, but were soon shortened due to complaints by the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
The construction of the power station used some leading edge technology for the beginning of the 20th century, and an article in the 20th October 1906 edition of the Kentish Independent described the power station:
“THE HEAVENLY TWINS – GREENWICH ELECTRIC POWER STATION: Very much the reverse of beautiful though they are, the two great chimneys which stand side by side, gaunt and forbidding, near the Thames at Greenwich, represent power, importance, and engineering skill. They are the outward and visible sign of the inward wonders of the London County Council’s new power station. One of the largest in the world it will be when completed.
‘The Heavenly Twins’ Greenwich people have christened the towers, but it is the interior which is to supply the vitality and volatility which will be the better reminder of Angelica and Diavolo.
Along the side wall of the vast chamber, where the plant is to be stored, runs a series of vertical girders, writes a correspondent who has paid the generating station a visit. On these a travelling iron bridge moves from end to end carrying a crane which lifts any weight up to 50 tons. Heavy objects are taken up at the front door and gingerly carried to any part of the hall. Below us the furnaces, consuming 600 tons a day, occupy the great basement. The dynamos are on the ground floor, in the side gallery a giant switchboard will strike the visitor with awe and fear at its death dealing potentialities.
It will come as a surprise to many homely people to find that here the ‘coal cellars’ are on top of the house. These bunkers comprise 24 square iron chambers, holding in all 16,000 tons of coal. The bottom of each is shaped, in cement and metal, like an inverted cone, the depressed point being an open funnel or shoot, down which the coal falls directly into the furnace openings as the stoker directs.”
The following photo from Britain from Above shows the power station in 1924 with the two “Heavenly Twins”, chimneys from the first phase of the power station nearest to the river and the shortened chimneys of the second phase to the right.
Trinity Hospital is to the left of the power station. The hospital buildings and clock tower facing the river, with the hospital gardens stretching back, parallel to the power station.
The power station supplied electricity to the London tram system, and later to the London Underground, along with Lotts Road in Chelsea. The power station was built on an earlier tramway depot. The following extract from the 1895 Ordnance Survey map shows the hospital in the centre of the map, with the tramway depot to the right.
Power stations in the first decades of the 20th century operated independently, with no backup and breakdowns would have an immediate impact to users of electricity, and this was very visible on the London transport system.
A letter to the East London Observer on the 17th October 1908 by the president of the Associated Municipal Electrical Engineers raised two recent failures of the Greenwich Power Station, and the power station at Lotts Road, Chelsea which supplied the London Underground:
“The Greenwich Power Station of the London County Council and the Chelsea Power Station of the Underground Railways, both these stations have recently broken down, with the result that in the former case about 600 to 800 trams were brought to a standstill, and in the latter case all trains and lifts on the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead Tube Railways and the District Railways were stopped and the stations and lifts plunged into utter darkness, as well as causing a stoppage on the Wimbledon and Surbiton sections of the London United Tramways systems.”
The author then goes on to propose that these sort of power outages can only be fixed if electricity generating stations are interconnected so there is no single point of failure, and other stations are available to take on the load of a failed power station. An idea that would eventually be implemented across the country in the form of the National Grid, which today provides electricity to the Underground network, with the Greenwich Power Station being available as a back-up generator having been converted to gas operation.
Trinity Hospital is also shown on the 1895 map, and by the time of the map, it was already almost 300 years old. The book “The Endowed Charities of the City of London” (published in 1829) describes the founding of the hospital as:
“By letters patent, King James I, dated 5th June, in the 13th year of his reign (1615) reciting that Henry, late Earl of Northampton, did, in his lifetime, begin to erect a certain edifice at East Greenwich, for the habitation and support of poor men”
Accommodation was provided for 20 poor men, who would live in the hospital along with a Warden. Residents were expected to comply with a set of standards which included not being allowed to go to Taverns or Ale-houses.
A 19th century report of a dinner provides a glimpse of life at Trinity Hospital and for the increased number of residents (now 25). From the 11th September 1841;
“Trinity Hospital, Greenwich – A most gratifying scene was presented at this hospital on Wednesday last, on the occasion of a dinner being given to the inmates, nurses &c, by the Rev. William Jurin Totton, rector of Debden, Essex, and old member of the Mercer’s Company, who are the governors and trustees of the charity. It was pleasing to those who saw the old members, 25 in number, and whose ages amounted to 1680 years, assembled in the sub-hall at a dinner of true old English fare of roast beef, plum-pudding, and other substantial refreshments. The dinner was served soon after noon according to primitive custom; and, afterwards various appropriate toasts were given by Mr Tatham, the warden. ‘God save the Queen’ being sung after that of the ‘ Queen and Royal Family’, by as many of the old men as were able, aided by the young men of Greenwich, whose musical services were kindly volunteered for the occasion.
The crowning point of the evening was the presentation by the liberal donor of the feast, of twenty-five valuable books, consisting of sermons and works of edification and amusement, thus forming the foundation of a library for the use of the poor men in their leisure hours. The Earl of Northampton’s banner was hoisted on the turret of the building, in honour of this innocent festivity, and at night-fall each inmate retired to his chamber with his heart filled with gratitude towards the Rev. Mr Totton, whose health was drank in the ancient silver loving-cup, with three times three.”
The report states that there were 25 residents with a combined age of 1680 years, therefore the average age of the residents was just over 67 years.
Note the reference to the Reverend being an old member of the Mercer’s Company. Trinity Hospital was one of the charities managed by the Mercer’s Company, and this relationship continues to this day with Trinity Hospital being one of the Mercer’s Almshouses. On their website, the conditions for admittance as a resident are:
being in reduced financial circumstances
reasonable good health and able to look after daily needs
resident of Greenwich for at least 4 years
So Trinity Hospital has retained its relationship with the Mercer’s and providing accommodation for local Greenwich residents for almost 400 years.
The London Metropolitan Collage Archive has a photo of Trinity Hospital looking in the opposite direction to the power station, dated 1937:
Trinity Hospital is sometimes open during the Open House London weekend and it has been on my list of places to visit, but not yet had the time. Hopefully this year.
As usual, there is so much to find in the immediate local area. Directly opposite Trinity Hospital is the river wall, heightened over the years to prevent flooding. With plaques on the wall detailing the heights and dates of previous high tides.
The plaque on the right records an extraordinary high tide on the 7th January 1928 when 75 feet of the wall were demolished, this must have flooded the hospital.
The river is always making its presence felt along the river walkway. A tell-tale flow of water from underneath this metal gate:
Sticking my camera over the top of the gate reveals a narrow gap between two buildings, with the river surging in.
Passing above the riverside walkway and extending out into the river is the old power station coal jetty.
As can be seen in the Britain from Above photo, the jetty once included two cranes which were used for moving coal from the river to the power station, and for transferring ash from the power station to barges on the river for disposal.
Along the riverside walkway, the power station is surrounded by a high brick wall, I suspect not just to keep people out, but also to keep water out in the event of a high tide.
The wall is covered in a mysterious set of ceramic works that tell the story of a young boy taking his dog for a walk along the Thames foreshore, and finding a strange creature that led the boy into the murky depths of the river. The work was created by Amanda Hinge.
I have featured the Cutty Sark pub before, which is to the east of Trinity Hospital, if you are walking along the river from the ship, the Cutty Sark, the first pub you come to is the Trafalgar Tavern. Built in 1837, the pub stands on the site of an earlier pub, the Old George Tavern.
Facing directly onto the river provides a superb view from the pub, however the high tides get close to the windows.
The power station is still providing a standby capability for the London Underground. Now gas-powered, the station is cabled to a number of points on the underground network, enabling Greenwich to provide electricity should there be problems with the main supply from the grid.
Unfortunately, the chimneys are today much reduced and the original pair do not justify the 1906 title of the Heavenly Twins.
Trinity Hospital continues to provide homes for the elderly of Greenwich, so this strange pairing of buildings look set to continue living next to each other for years to come.
I must have been going to the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich for well over 45 years. I can just about remember the first trips, where as part of a family day out to Greenwich, after feeding the squirrels in the park, walking down to the Cutty Sark ship and the old Gypsy Moth IV, Francis Chichester’s boat in which he circumnavigated the world single handed in 1967, we would walk along the river to the Cutty Sark pub for a soft drink and crisps.
The walk along the river was different to that of today. It was much quieter and the industrial nature of the Greenwich Peninsula extended up to the Greenwich Power Station. My father would tell us stories along the way. Along the narrow walkway between the River Thames and the old Royal Naval College he would tell of people being robbed along here at night with the threat of being thrown in the river if they did not comply – no idea if these stories were true, or whether they were to keep the interest in a walk, but I could imagine this happening on a dark night with mist drifting across from the river.
To get to the Cutty Sark pub, it was a walk in front of the Royal Naval College, past the Trafalgar Tavern, Trinity Hospital and Power Station. There was then a short walk through a scrap metal yard to get to the pub.
A couple of months ago, I scanned some negatives and among the photos were some I had taken in Greenwich, including these photos which were probably taken in 1986 (plus or minus a year – I did not date these negatives, but judging by other photos on the same negative strips they are from this time).
The approach to the Cutty Sark pub was through a scrap metal yard. High walls of concrete panels held back large amounts of metal on either side of a narrow walkway:
The scene today is so very different. As part of the de-industrialisation of the area, the scrap yard has been cleared, space opened up to the river on the left and flats built to the right.
The following photo shows the same scene today:
The Cutty Sark pub is in a superb location. An early 19th century building (although a pub had been on the site for many years prior to the current building), it looks out over the river, providing views to the east and west. We sat outside on a hot day in early August 2018 during the visit to take these photos, something I dream about doing again whilst writing this on a cold, grey and overcast January morning.
The current name of the pub is relatively recent, only being named the Cutty Sark in 1951 when the ship of the same name first arrived in Greenwich. Originally the pub was called the Green Man, then from 1810 it was named the Union Tavern.
After clearance of the scrap yard, the Cutty Sark pub now enjoys a large open space to the west along with a seating area directly in front of the pub.
In the above photo there is a brick wall with three plaques, a close up photo provides some detail:
The middle plaque informs that the foundation stone on the right was from the old metal recycling yard that occupied the space.
I have not been able to find any information as to the blue plaque on the left, and who was “Gordon of Greenwich”, There are English Hedonists plaques in other parts of London, created as an artwork, but the Greenwich plaque does not appear to be included in lists of these other plaques.
The area around the Cutty Sark pub is an ideal point to view the river and the western edge of the Greenwich Peninsula. The closure of industry along this stretch of the river is almost complete and it is undergoing a similar transformation to much of the rest of the river, with blocks of flats being built, the first of these can be seen in my photo earlier in the post showing the view from where the scrap yard once stood, with a tall block of flats taking up the area behind and to the left of the Cutty Sark pub.
In 1986, this was the view along the Greenwich Peninsula:
The same view today (I must get better at taking photos at the same state of the tide):
Apart from the curve of the river, the only recognisable feature in both photos is the gas holder further down the peninsula. This was originally one of a pair of gas holders, the largest of their type when constructed. One of the gas holders was demolished in 1986, fortunately one survives.
This photo from Britain from Above shows the pair of gasholders in 1924 and the surrounding industrial landscape.
Two large concrete silos can also be seen, shown again in the following photo which was taken from the edge of the scrap yard. These were the storage silos of a sugar refinery which, as with much of British industry in the past few decades, went through a number of changes of ownership before being bought in 2007 by a French company and then being closed two years later, with demolition of the silos following soon after.
The following photo from 1986 shows a view across the full width of the River Thames. The large container cranes were part of the Victoria Deep Water Wharf. Behind these are two chimneys from the old Blackwall Power Station, commissioned in 1951 and closed thirty years later.
The same view today:
The only obvious surviving features are the old brick warehouse on the left (now flats) and the tower block behind.
There are a few remaining historical features buried within the photos. The following is an enlargement of one part of my 1986 photos. Part of the old sugar refinery is to the left, but look in front of this building and along the river edge is a triangular metal structure:
The following enlargement from one of my 2018 photos shows the same area today and whilst all the factory buildings have been demolished, the triangular metal structure, now painted grey, remains.
This is part of the winding equipment that allowed undersea telecommunications cables manufactured in the buildings to the right in the 1986 photo to be transported from the factory onto ships moored in the river.
This is Enderby Wharf and is where the first cable to cross the Atlantic was manufactured with much of the world’s sub-sea communication cables being manufactured here until the mid 1970s.
The white building behind is Enderby House, built around 1830 and the only remaining building from the factory site.
Enderby Wharf was the site for a planned cruise liner terminal, however these plans have been abandoned following local campaigns against the terminal as the lack of shore power would have meant ships moored at the terminal would be generating their own electricity and therefore polluting the local area.
Although the cruise terminal has been abandoned, development of the Greenwich Peninsula continues and the river bank between the Cutty Sark pub and the O2 Dome will soon be an almost continuous line of flats.
The industrial history of the Greenwich Peninsula is fascinating. The book “Innovation, Enterprise and Change on the Greenwich Peninsula” by Mary Mills provides plenty of detail on the factories and industries that made their home on the peninsula. The Greenwich Industrial History site also has plenty of detailed information.
In the depths of January, I am just looking forward to when the weather improves and provides the opportunity to sit outside the Cutty Sark on a warm sunny day, with a beer and taking in the views of the river.
I have to blame a busy week at work for a different post this week to the one I had planned as I had hoped to visit a couple of locations for some research, so for this week’s post I would like to take you on a walk along the Greenwich Peninsula. It is rather brief, but does cover a fascinating part of London and one that is to see some significant change over the next few years.
London is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to photograph places and buildings before they change or disappear and the subject of this week’s post is an area I wish I had photographed before, I have walked the area but did not photograph, so this is very much a catch-up.
Greenwich is mainly known for the Royal Observatory, the National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark etc. however step a short distance away from these places and there are the remains of an industrial landscape that will soon be covered in the ubiquitous apartment buildings that can be seen across London, all basically to the same design and of the same materials.
As well as the apartment buildings, this area is also planned to be the site of a cruise ship terminal in the next few years, providing visitors with access to both Greenwich and central London.
Starting from the Greenwich Pier, the view along the river gives an indication of what is to come with cranes in the distance towering above new construction work.
Walking along the river path having passed the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College and along a side road, is the Trinity Hospital and Greenwich Power Station.
The Almshouses of Trinity Hospital have been on the site since the 17th century, but the current buildings are from the early 19th century. The adjacent power station was built at the start of the 20th century to power the London tram and underground network, however since the transfer of the power supply for the underground to the National Grid, the Greenwich Power Station retains a role as a backup generator.
The river wall in front of the Almshouses records past levels of flooding.
The lower left plaque records the height of the tide on the 30th March 1874. The plaque on the right records “an extraordinary high tide” on January 7th 1928 when “75ft of this wall were demolished”.
The plaque at the top records that the wall was “erected and the piles fixed” in the year 1817.
Walk along a bit further and it is possible to look back to the river wall in front of the Almshouses and see the remains of the original steps that led up from the river. A reminder of when the majority of travel to sites along the river would have been on the river.
The original coal supplies for the power station came by river and the jetty remains, now unused as the limited amount of oil and gas needed for the power station in a standby role is delivered by road.
The Britain From Above website has an excellent aerial photo of the power station in full operation in 1924. The almshouses can be seen to the left with their gardens running back in parallel to the power station. This is photo reference EPW010754
Walk past the power station and the Cutty Sark pub (a good stop before setting off towards the Dome) and the building marked as the Harbour Masters Office is the last building before we come to what was the old industrial area and is now the subject of much redevelopment.
Walk up a short ramp and this is the view. Whilst there is an urgent need for lots more housing in London, why do all apartment buildings have to look identical and obliterate any local character.
There are the remains of a number of artworks along this stretch of the Thames. Here a line of clocks tied to fencing.
Some parts of the walk are between fenced off industrial areas waiting for development. Indeed walking along the path you do get the feeling that the area is just waiting – the industry has gone, the new development has not yet started.
Where the pathway runs along the river there are a surprising number of trees. Here an apple tree, intriguing to think that this could have grown from the seeds in an apple core thrown down by a long departed worked, or possibly washed down the Thames.
One of the main industries along this stretch of the river was the manufacture of submarine communication cables which took place at Enderby Wharf and it is here that we can see the remains of some of this activity.
Here was manufactured the first cable to cross the Atlantic and up until the mid 1970s much of the world’s subsea communication cables had been manufactured here. The web site covering the history of the Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications has a detailed history of Enderby Wharf.
The two structures that can still be seen are part of the mechanism for transferring cable from the factory on the right to cable ships moored in the Thames to the left. Cable would be run across the walkway to the top of the tower on the right then to the round hold-back mechanism on the left then onto the ship.
Again, the Britain from Above web site has a photo of the Enderby Wharf site which is in the middle of the photo. This is photo reference EAW002289
The following photo is why I wish I had taken photos along this stretch of the Thames some years ago. Hoardings now block of the factory site, but only the original Enderby House remains. This is a listed building, built around 1830, but looks to be in a process of slow decay. The Atlantic Cable and Undersea Communications website has lots of detail on Enderby House and how the building has decayed.
All I can do now is climb on the river wall and try to look over the hoardings.
Looking onto Enderby’s Wharf. Cable being run onto ships would have crossed directly above on its route from the factory.
How Barratt Homes plan to develop Enderby Wharf can be found here.
Look into the river and a set of steps running down into the Thames can be seen. These are the Enderby Wharf Ferry Steps. Whilst steps into the river have been here for many years, these steps are recent, having been installed in 2001.
The plaque at the top of the steps.
The plaque records that:
These steps originally gave access to the row boat and ferry man that ferried crew members between the shore and the cable ships anchored off-shore in the deeper central channel of the river.
They also pass alongside the Bendish Sluice, one of the four sluices established in the 17th century to draw off the water from the natural marshlands that constitute Greenwich Peninsula.
From the mid 1800’s until 1975 telegraph and latterly telephone cables have been manufactured at Enderby Wharf and were stored in vast tanks at the works which Alcatel now operate. These cables were loaded into the holds of ships while they lay anchored in the river. Cable produced at this site were used to establish the first links between England and France; the last cable made on the Greenwich site linked Venezuela with Spain.
Looking down the Enderby Wharf Ferry Steps:
Another view of the cable transfer machinery.
It is in this area that the cruise terminal is planned to be built. The London City Cruise Port will be at Enderby Wharf and will allow mid-sized cruise ships to moor at a site with easy access to Greenwich and central London. I only hope that Enderby House, the original cable transfer machinery and the Enderby Wharf Steps are retained and protected.
A short distance past Enderby Wharf is Tunnel Wharf.
And the hoardings continue to fence off the areas waiting for redevelopment. This is Morden Wharf.
Parts of the path seem to have a distinctly rural quality with trees lining the slopping river bank down into the Thames.
But the remains of old industrial areas soon return. London will soon be losing the majority of the old gas holders that were once major landmarks across the city. I do not know if this large gas holder on the Greenwich Peninsula is protected, I suspect not.
Walking past the area where some of the river’s shipping is maintained in a row of dry docks.
Looking across from the river path to the Dome, with the grade 2 listed entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel.
The final stretch of the river walk before reaching the new developments around the O2 also have an air of waiting for a different use.
A large site is used for the storage and processing of aggregates that arrive by barge along the river.
And then we reach the area leading up to the Dome consisting of a golf driving range:
And another building site and behind, a building that I cannot understand how an architect thought would be a good design for this location.
The Greenwich Peninsula has not attracted the same attention as much of the recent development in central London, however it is an area that will be changing dramatically over the next few years as stretches of almost identical glass and steel buildings run further along the river.
Now where to photograph next in a continually changing city?
Back in August, I published a number of London Postcards showing the city during the first decades of the 20th Century. For this week’s post I have another series of postcards from the same time period.
I find these fascinating as they show many different aspects of London and provide a tangible link with those who lived in, or were visiting London.
The first postcard is of a very wintry Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Taken at a time when this was still a working observatory. Very rare to see such snowfall in London today.
The postcard was posted at a very different time of year to the pictured scene, on the 31st August 1905. With a Greenwich postmark, posted to a child in Lowestoft with a birthday wish from his aunt and uncle.
As well as scenic views, early postcards are also populated by Londoners. This postcard shows Covent Garden with some fantastic detail of a very busy street scene. This was at a time when wearing a hat was almost mandatory, with the type of hat indicating your position in the social structure of the day. The scene is also piled high with baskets ready to transport goods to and from the market.
The following postcard shows Regent Street at a time when almost all shops had awnings or shop blinds. The shop on the right is the London Stereoscopic Company. Formed during the 1850s, the company started selling stereoscopic photos and viewers and then went into the general photographic business selling cameras, photographic paper and other photography supplies. The company lasted until 1922.
The bus in the foreground is the number 13 covering Finchley Road, Baker Street, Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross and Fleet Street. The number 13 bus route today covers many of the same locations.
Another street scene, this time Holborn (posted on the 18th September 1913).
All these photos show the main street lamps on islands in the centre of the road. When electric lighting was introduced to the streets of London, the centre of the road was found to be the best location to spread light across both sides of the road. These lighting islands also had other benefits. A report presented to the Vestry of St. Pancras in 1891 covering the use of public lighting by electricity claimed that one advantage of central street lighting in busy thoroughfares is that they regulate the traffic. The report stated:
“Your committee are informed that the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police has suggested that there ought to be a rest at that point to prevent the numerous stoppages and accidents that occur there. The Police seem to be strongly of the opinion that the fixing of rests assists very materially in the regulation of the traffic, and your Committee feel therefore that although at first sight many people may think the lighting from the centre of the road would tend to obstruction, it really assists in facilitating the traffic and preventing obstruction in crowded thorough-fares.”
“Rests” refers to the islands built in the centre of the road where a street lamp could be installed and protected from traffic. They also provided a safe stopping point, or rest, for pedestrians trying to cross the road. The report was written as part of the planning for the installation of electric arc lamps in Tottenham Court Road. The following postcard shows Tottenham Court Road taken looking north from the junction with Charing Cross Road. The buildings on the left, along with the pub are still there.
The above postcard was sent by a visitor to London from North Wales who “has been seeing the sights and are now going to the zoo.”
Perhaps one of those sights was Leicester Square, much quieter than it is today, possibly a weekend in winter when sitting in, or running through the square was the ideal way to pass the afternoon. The building in the background with the large flag is the original Empire Theatre. Opened in 1884 and demolished in 1927.
It was not just central London locations that were popular subjects for postcards. The following card, postmarked 1912, shows Clapham Junction. Although the type of traffic has changed, the scene looks remarkably similar today, although the Arding and Hobbs department store on the corner is now a Debenhams.
The sender of the card wrote “On back is the new Arding & Hobbs. Old building burnt down a few years ago.” The new building shown in the postcard was completed in 1910.
At first glance, the following photo looks to be of Charing Cross Station, although, as the name across the building confirms, it is the original Cannon Street Hotel, forming the entrance to Cannon Street Station.
To show how similar they are, the following shows Charing Cross Station. This is no coincidence as they were both designed by Edward Middleton Barry who also designed the replica Queen Eleanor Cross which stands in the forecourt of the station. The hotel at Cannon Street has long gone, and the station entrance now looks very different. Charing Cross provides a physical reminder of what once stood in Cannon Street.
The next postcard is of the Monument, however what I find more interesting about the scene are the people, and also the large amount of advertising on the building to the left. The postcard was posted at the station at Walton on Thames by someone who had just moved into a new house in Weybridge. Perhaps a City worker who had bought the postcard in London.
The posters include adverts for, Nestles Swiss Milk, Bass beer, the Royal Military Tournament, Regie Cigarettes, Allsopp’s Lager and Triscuit, which if it is the same thing is a cracker produced in America and is still in production today. The building on the corner on the right is the Monument Tavern.
London’s bridges have always been popular subjects for postcards, and the following view is of London Bridge. The bridge shown is that designed by John Rennie and opened in 1831. It was sold in 1968 to make way for the current London Bridge and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Both the buildings on either side of the end of the bridge are still there, Adelaide House on the right and Fishmongers Hall on the left.
And the following postcard shows Blackfriars Bridge. The large curved building at the left of the bridge is De Keyser’s Royal Hotel which was opened on the 5th September 1874 by Sir Polydore de Keyser who came to London as a waiter from Belgium and eventually became Lord Mayor of London. The Uniliver building is now on this site.
The following postcard is titled “The Hanging Gardens of London, Selfridges Water Gardens Looking West”. The roof of the Oxford Street department store, Selfridges, had gardens and cafes during the 1920s and 30s and were a popular location after shopping. The roof gardens were damaged during the last war and never reopened.
The following postcard shows the London County Council Millbank Estate, and judging by the condition of the streets, this must be soon after construction of the estate finished in 1902. The building halfway down the road on the left is a school. The estate and the school are still in existence and the buildings today look much the same although there is now parking lining most of these streets. The Milbank Estate is Grade II listed. The people in the photo are probably some of the first occupants of the estate.
Although the Tower of London is the subject of the following postcard, I find the background of more interest as it shows London when the height of buildings was relatively low compared to the City we see today. This postcard has a 1931 postmark and was sent to Belgium by a visitor to London.
The following photo taken from Bankside shows the north bank of the river with the original wharfs.
Paul’s Wharf in the centre with St. Paul’s Pier in front, the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company (the smaller building towards the right with the white upper part), and Trig Wharf to the right. The Millennium Bridge now crosses the river here, roughly at the site of the London & Lisbon Cork Wood Company. The Bankside location has always provided a superb view across the river and has a fascinating history which I wrote about here, mainly involving the transport of coal and other goods on the river hence the lighters on the river in the foreground.
In the days before the personal ownership of portable cameras, postcards were about the only means of sending a message showing where the author lived or was visiting and as such they provide a fascinating insight into early 20th century London.
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.
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.
The industrial sites down the river look very different at night.
Getting closer to the Queen Elizabeth II bridge with the Stoneness Lighthouse on the right.
Having navigated the bends in the river, now heading straight to the bridge.
Ships along the river provide pools of light on the dark water.
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.
The Archer, Daniels, Midland Erith Ltd oil processing plant looks very different on the way back than on the way out.
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.
About to pass through the barrier. Green direction arrows clearly point to the channel that should be used to navigate through the barrier.
Passing through the barrier.
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.
Up close to one of the towers supporting the Air Line with the O2 Arena in the background.
Passing the O2 Arena:
With Canary Wharf in the background.
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)
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.
Passing Greenwich and the masts of the Cutty Sark along with the lights of the Greenwich Pier come into view.
The lighting provides a rather ghostly appearance to the Cutty Sark.
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.
Passing along the Isle of Dogs. The brilliant lighting of Canary Wharf with the less intense lights of the homes along the river bank.
Continuing pass the Isle of Dogs.
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.
The brilliant lighting of Canary Wharf.
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.
Now heading towards Tower Bridge. Looks as if they have not replaced the bulb on the right hand tower.
Getting close as the bridge starts to rise. Also, the red warning lights from the top of the many cranes across the city.
Nearly fully open with the Walkie Talkie peering in from the right.
And the Shard on the left.
About to pass under Tower Bridge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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.
About to pass through the Thames Barrier:
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.
And what passing through the Thames Barrier looks like today.
Along this part of the river, the bank is lined with many relics of the river’s industrial past.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further along are a second set of piers for another mooring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Passing underneath Tower Bridge. Unfortunately shooting into the sun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Metropolitan Wharf, another Grade 2 listed building, the overall complex constructed between 1862 and 1898.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking back at the office blocks of Canary Wharf with the old entrance to the Millwall Outer Dock on the right.
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.
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.
Arriving at Greenwich with the entrance to the foot tunnel and the Cutty Sark.
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:
Greenwich 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.