Hello again and welcome to the sixth day of my walk along the Jubilee Greenway in London and when I say that you can probably see the problem already if you know about that particular designated footpath.
The Greenway is 60 km. long (35 miles in proper Imperial measurement) and was designed thus to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 60th year on the throne in 2012. Starting at Limehouse Basin and working anti-clockwise I had still only managed to get as far as Surrey Docks (now renamed Surrey Quays) in Rotherhithe which was probably two thirds of the total distance and there is simply no way it should have taken five days to achieve that modest distance.
My problem as that on the previous two days I had been “cut off in full flow” by my treacherous knees, hitherto very robust, which had now decided to make their presence felt in a very uncomfortable manner. I was probably taking a bit of a risk as it was only the next day but the perfidious patellae felt OK so I decided to chance it and if you want to join me, let’s go for a walk.
Despite my usual reluctance to travel anywhere near rush hour (even before the coronavirus outbreak which was then still “something they have in China”) I managed to get to Surrey Quays Overground station shortly after half nine in the morning and a quick stroll brought me back to Greenland Dock where I had been forced to retire the previous day.
It is a sizeable body of water as you can see and, skirting round the Southern side of it, I passed a rather fancy looking Fitness and Water Sports Centre with a lot of dinghies covered and wintered up outside. It must be a very enjoyable place to learn the rudiments of sailing when the weather is fine. Indeed, it would not have been a bad day for a sail today if you wrapped yourself up nice and warm. It was certainly chilly but it was lovely and bright with quite a low winter sun which was going to prove to be a bit of a bugbear during the day as far as taking images was concerned. Still, I wasn’t complaining, it was a great day for a walk.
I regained the river at the entrance to the dock and and to take yet another image of the Isle of Dogs in all it’s glory. Like Ramsgate Harbour, Viking Bay in Broadstairs and various bridges, I really cannot get enough images of that part of town. This one includes Greenland Pier in the left foreground and leads me nicely on to another tip for visitors to my adopted home city which is take a trip on the river.
There are any amount of river cruises available, just do an internet search on “river cruise London” and see how many results you get. I have only ever been on one once, many years ago when my late Mother (RIP) was visiting me and wanted to do it. It was certainly a pleasant trip and my Mum liked the commentary although I already knew most of what was imparted but it wasn’t cheap.
What the “cruise” companies obviously don’t tell you is that there is a regular riverboat service provided as part of the standard London transport infrastructure and controlled by Transport for London (TfL), the regulatory body for all the capital’s transport. You can travel daily from Battersea Power Station in the West to Tower (for Tower Hill and Bridge) and then continue as far downstream as North Greenwich with a peak hour extension to Woolwich Royal Arsenal. There are different services at weekends.
Whilst you don’t get the commentary of the sightseeing boats or the food and entertainment offered by the dinner cruises, it is a much more cost-efficient way of seeing London from this unique viewpoint. It is certainly something every visitor to London should do at last once.
There are reminders of the maritime nature of this area dotted about everywhere, with this apparently marooned capstan being a good example. In contrast to what is coming up shortly it was at least rather pleasant to look at.
The Greenway along this stretch follows a massively wide walkway and I was having trouble working out whether this was a throwback to the old maritime days to allow for cargo vehicles or whether it was a more recent innovation dating only to the relatively modern re-development of the whole Docklands area. In truth I still haven’t worked it out but I know that my small readership are very knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects (stop grovelling, Ferg) so if anyone knows the answer to this then please do get in touch. I do love getting correspondence regarding the site.
This image also shows just how low and glaringly bright the sun was. It wasn’t yet a problem owing to our relative directions of travel but it would make for some fun and games a bit later on.
The image you can see here is included not for any reason of historical interest or anything like that but I was looking round me quite a bit and the juxtaposition of the old(ish) natural tree in front of the new(ish) tower block with the morning sun on it just appealed to me.
From the modernity of the skyscraper to something obviously a lot older in merely a few steps, the rather splendid gates you can see here which conceal some steps leading down to the foreshore and are one of the few remaining clues as to what this whole area originally was. If you care to look closely at the image you’ll see a sign on the steps stating that it is “Deptford Strand, SE8”, so at least I knew where I was!
This whole area, from about the mid 16th century onwards was a Royal Dockyard, indeed it was the first Royal Dockyard in the country and for it’s building we have that industrious monarch Henry VIII to thank. He is another one of those figures who keeps cropping up on the Jubilee Greenway, indeed he has a habit of cropping up just about everywhere in Southern England but his is not the only Royal patronage of the Yard.
It was at the dockyard here that his daughter Queen Elizabeth knighted the licensed pirate and slaver or national hero (depending on your point of view) Sir Francis Drake aboard his ship, the Golden Hind(e) and you may remember we saw a replica of that a couple of instalments ago. It was also allegedly here that Sir Walter Raleigh did his number with the cape over the puddle for the same monarch but I have read of similar claims for a number of other places.
As well as the building of ships, the area along Deptford Strand was very busy as a Victualling Yard (i.e. supply depot) and this function increased as the need for shipbuilding declined in the post Napoleonic war period. It was a huge operation with it’s own bakery and slaugtherhouse amongst other things and there was actually still such a Yard here in my lifetime as it only closed in 1961. The last working dock in the area, Convoys Wharf, managed to struggle on until 2000 before it closed. It was replaced by a very controversial high rise development of yet more luxury flats which local people cannot afford.
The Victualling Yard was cleared away and a new housing estate, named for the famous diarist Sir Samuel Pepys, was built on the site. When I moved to London in the 1980’s the Pepys, as it is locally known, had a well-deserved reputation for drugs, crime, social deprivation and all the other ills that often blight inner city areas although it appears to have cleaned up it’s act considerably now I am glad to say.
Deptford shipyard enjoyed an international reputation as a centre of excellence and perhaps it’s most famous visitor was Peter the Great, the Russian Tsar, who was a rather “hands on” absolute monarch and came here to study shipbuilding for three months in 1698. We’ll be meeting him in a minute. When Peter was in Deptford he stayed at the home of the noted diarist, Royalist and gardener John Evelyn at Sayes House which was adjacent to the dockyard. We”ll meet Evelyn again in a moment as well as his guest.
I know that “all things must pass” as George Harrison once very accurately observed and the idea of a modern naval supply base in Deptford in the 20th century is clearly ludicrous so I am glad these gates remain as a memento of over 400 years of maritime history along this stretch of the river.
The path deviates here and you cannot follow the foreshore so you are forced “inland” through the housing estates and it was here that I spotted what I think must have been the gates of some portion of the old dockyard. I know they were official in some way due to the marker stone which has the crow’s foot device and the letters WD which stand for War Department.
If you want an absolutely fascinating read into the history of the area, specifically an excavation of Convoys Wharf undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeological Department, then have a look here but I warn you it is 222 page long and takes a while to wade through.
Almost inevitably on this stretch I found yet another “lost pub”, the Princess of Wales which has now gone the way of so many old boozers and been converted into flats. Sadly, there will be many more to come in this entry.
I soon came to Sayes Court Park which was part of the gardens of the house of the same name which I mentioned above and where I chanced upon a rather old and somewhat gnarled looking mulberry tree which was reputed to have been planted by Peter the Great in Evelyn’s garden here. It is probably just as well he did some planting as he was better known for destroying the writer’s lovingly tended gardens when he and his friends got drunk which was apparently most of the time.
In his diary Evelyn laments the destruction of a holly hedge when Peter was being pushed around in a wheelbarrow by a bunch of his inebriated drinking buddies. I had known about Peter’s association with Deptford before and had heard of Evelyn but I really wasn’t expecting to find this, it was a very pleasant surprise.
I love the story of Peter the Great planting the mulberry tree although recent evidence shows that it is not possible. Tree DNA from the noble plant indicates that it could not have been the work of the Tsar but is a genetically mutated specimen. In another spoiler, Peter never actually met Evelyn who had gone elsewhere by then and let the premises to Admiral Sir John Benbow. Benbow was a famous sailor who was at the time Master Attendant of the dockyard here and had sub-let Sayes Court to the Russian party which I am sure he later regretted. Benbow died of wounds in Port Royal, Jamaica where I was lucky enough to visit whilst working on the island some years ago and the fictional Admiral Benbow pub in Treasure Island (1881) is named for him.
Leaving the park I made my way along Prince Street and was faced with yet another dead hostelry, this time the Naval Arms. Like it’s sibling round the corner it is now flats as well.
It was getting quite depressing one way and another on the pub front but my spirits were lifted almost immediately by the sight of the delightful looking Dog and Bell which appeared to be very much still in business, if sadly not yet open for the day. Another one filed away for future reference.
My heart was lightened even further just across the road by the sight of a pleasant open space with arguably the cutest name ever – Twinkle Park. Sheer genius! It is linked to the Charlotte Turner Gardens although who she was I am at a loss to discover. Come to that, I have not been able to ascertain what the name Twinkle Park refers to but I still like it. Twinkle Park is quite clever in it’s usage as it serves as a playground for a nearby primary school during school hours and then, by means of moving a couple of pieces of street furniture, it reverts to being a public open space outside these times, complete with pond and decking.
I suppose it should look good as a firm of “consultants” managed to screw £1.2 million out of Greenwich Council and various charities for the work to convert this from a rubbish strewn, overgrown wasteland into what it is now. Certainly it is attractive but local people seem to think that someone was lining their own pockets handsomely on this project. Take a bow, Ireland Albrecht Landscape Architects.
It wasn’t far from the park until I regained the river and another sailing centre, this one a charitable operation called the Ahoy Centre. Like the centre in Greenland Dock, the dinghies seemed fairly well wrapped up against the winter weather.
I was now in Glaisher Street, which is notably home to two things of note, the first of which is Greenfell Mansions which is one of the numerous blocks of luxury flats that seem to have been the main purpose of spending billions of pounds on the whole Docklands redevelopment. Private developers made an absolute killing and estate agents and others continue to do so on a regeneration funded by the poor old taxpayer i.e. me and others like me. You can see this monument to profit in the background of the images below.
The second item of note is what must rank as one of the oddest statues in London and there are certainly enough to choose from. We are back to our old friend Peter the Great and his drunken fact-finding mission to Deptford dockyard in the late 17th century. Let’s have a look at this piece, the work of Viacheslav Bukhaev (architect) and Mikhail Chemiakin (sculptor) which was unveiled in 2001 by Prince Michael of Kent.
Chemiakin is an interesting figure, having been exiled from the USSR in 1971 because the authorities didn’t like his output. Perhaps they objected to the disproportionately small head on Peter’s huge frame (look closely) as he did exactly the same thing on another even larger statue of the Tsar in St. Petersburg. The fact that Peter’s body is so large actually reflects historical fact. In an age when people were a lot shorter than they are today he stood a towering 6’8″ tall and was an imposing figure who was apparently fond of working as hard manually as he played. In fairness to the sculptor there is historical evidence that his subject had a small head although I doubt it was this tiny.
Although he did not officially sign on as a journeyman carpenter, as he had done on a similar stint in a Dutch dockyard, he was renowned for not being to resist “getting stuck in” with the local tradesmen which has to be even more remarkable than Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s stint as a mechanic and driver in the ATS during the last war. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Tsar even if he did introduce a tax on long beards!
There was originally another statue of Peter in the nearby Deptford West power station (now decommissioned and removed) but somehow they managed to lose it, hence this weird new offering. Quite how you lose a bloody great statue is completely beyond me.
Apart from the Tsar himself the sculpted group includes a large chair which may be a throne although it hardly looks grand enough or it may represent one of the 50 damaged by Peter and his drunken entourage in Sayes Court. That makes sense in a way, as do the two cannons which possibly represent the military power of his huge nation or even the armaments of the Royal Naval ships whose construction he was studying. If you look closely you’ll see that the seat itself appears to have been buffed by the posteriors of those presumably posing for photos. I didn’t bother myself as I reckoned it would be a bit chilly on the posterior that January day!
What baffles me completely is the dwarf holding a miniature ship in one hand and what is supposedly a globe in the other although it looks nothing like it to me.
Apparently it is not just my complete lack of artistic appreciation that causes this confusion as numerous other online sources confess to similar incomprehension and I can find no decent explanation for the vertically challenged figure. What I do know is that we should probably be thankful for small mercies (pun vaguely intended) as the sculptor’s original plan was to have a number of dwarf Court jesters baring their backsides but this was vetoed by the “powers that be”.
If our statuesque (in every sense of the word) Russian monarch could turn his brass head to the right he would be looking at Deptford Creek, never particularly attractive at the best of times and certainly not at low tide, as you can see.
It is the tidal reach of the River Ravensbourne and the first available crossing point upstream from the Thames was at the point which is now called Deptford Bridge and it is this which gives the the area it’s name. It was originally “depe ford” or deep ford obviously and this eventually became corrupted to Deptford.
The Ravensbourne gives me an opportunity for another of my numerous digressions and only marginally less common digressions off a digression. The river gives it’s name to one of the oldest Morris dancing sides in the UK and the oldest continuously performing side in Kent. Many years ago I played in a band called Muddy Feet whose melodeon payer was a guy called Ben Dauncey who is a member of Ravensbourne Morris. He has the distinction of being in the Guinness book of World Records for having morris danced the longest distance in a week at a remarkable 146.25 miles. Good man, Ben.
In the tangential excursus, the drummer in Muddy Feet was my dear friend Max who now lives in Australia and whose best man I was when he got married many years ago. For a while we were both in the house band in the wonderful and very much missed Greenwich Inn pub (closed many years now) which is not far from here and which has Deptford Creek flowing just past the back of it. I’m glad I got all that out of my system and so back now to the Jubilee Greenway.
The image accompanying these next paragraphs looks like another one that I have failed to crop properly but I promise you it is framed like this for a reason. The domed structure is the Southern end of the Greenwich foot tunnel which was opened in 1902 and is one of the lesser known wonders of London like the even less well known Woolwich Foot Tunnel which we shall come to in a while.
It connects Greenwich with Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs in the North over a distance of 1,215 feet at a depth of 50 feet below the surface of the Thames. If I am showing visitors around Greenwich I do like deliberately alighting one stop early on the Docklands light Railway and walking through the tunnel as it provides an interesting way to arrive in the maritime Borough.
In the foreground is a well-tended but slightly sorry looking “garden” but it was the middle of winter. I remember this space for many years being home to the Gipsy Moth IV which is a vessel absolutely befitting an area with such a massive sea-faring history. Let me tell you about it.
In 1967 a keen yachtsman called Sir Francis Chichester set off in Gipsy Moth IV to attempt the first solo circumnavigation of the globe in a sailing vessel. This was quite something to attempt as he was 64 years old at the time and in remission from lung cancer which had been initially misdiagnosed as terminal. By that point he had already had a fascinating life, flying his de Havilland Gipsy Moth ‘plane solo to New Zealand amongst other things. In later life he was to name all his yachts for the aircraft. During the Second World War, he was deemed too old to be a combat pilot but served instead as a navigational instructor teaching others the solo navigational techniques he had pioneered.
Despite his adventurous life, his crowning achievement was the circumnavigation which he completed in 228 days with only one stop in Sydney and via the Great Capes (Good Hope, Horn and Leeuwin in Australia). Remarkably, the vessel was an absolute pig to sail and Sir Francis admitted to having no fondness for her at all. A yachting writer described her as “perhaps one of the worst racing yachts ever built” and it was certainly too big and cumbersome (she was 65’) for a man of his age and physical capabilities but somehow he managed it, breaking numerous records en route.
In 1968 Gipsy Moth IV went on permanent display at this site and you were actually allowed to walk on her, I remember doing so myself. This inevitably took it’s toll on the wooden decks and in 2004 she was sold for a nominal sum (£1 and a gin and tonic!) to a sailing charity who had her restored by the original builders in Hampshire. Once refitted she took part in a number of round the world races before being eventually retired from racing and she now lies in Buckler’s Hard in Hampshire when she is not hosting paying passengers to pay for her upkeep. Even if the yacht herself is now gone she is remembered in the name of the nearby pub where the food used to be very good although I have not eaten there for a while.
Finally, another piece of trivia which you all know I love so much. If you are the proud possessor of a British passport issued since 2015, take a look inside the back cover next time you have it to hand and there you’ll find a drawing of the Gipsy Moth happily plying one of the world’s oceans. Very appropriate.
If you look very closely at the image above you’ll just see the bowsprit of a sailing vessel and, like the Gipsy Moth was no ordinary racing yacht, this is no ordinary ship. This is the Cutty Sark which is often referred to as the fastest tea clipper ever although this is technically inaccurate. Built in Dumbarton in Scotland and launched in 1869 she was initially a tea clipper but this trade dried up with the advent of steam ships and she moved into other areas of carriage, notably wool from Australia. It was during this period that she became the fastest clipper in the world.
When steam finally took over commercial shipping completely, Cutty Sark moved to Greenhithe, jut downstream in Kent, where she served as a training vessel until being de-commissioned in 1954 and put on display here in Greenwich. Like the Gipsy Moth, I remember visiting her years ago and enjoying the experience but that was before a catastrophic fire during restoration in 2007 which very seriously damaged the ship.
After securing vast amounts of public money which still proved insufficient as the project ran predictably hugely over budget, it was eventually re-opened amid much controversy. It had been raised about 10 feet to allow for space below, partially to allow viewing of the hull but primarily for corporate hospitality. Building Design magazine voted it the worst new building project of 2012 and awarded it the dreaded “Carbuncle Cup”.
I mentioned earlier that the sun was going to be messing me about all day in relation to photography and that is why you have part of the tunnel entrance intruding into the top right of this image. It was the only way I could get any sort of a shot without the sun shining straight in the lens. It’s still not great but it was the best I could do and you can always look up better images online of you like.
The waterfront here is packed with beautiful buildings which were formerly the Royal Naval College and much of which now houses the University of Greenwich. This particular magnificent structure is the Pepys building, named for the famous diarist who was employed as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board (amongst various other posts) and so had a strong association with the maritime affairs of Greenwich.
It was originally a racquets court for the officers from the College and now houses the “Discover Greenwich” visitor centre. Interestingly, the building was not designed by a noted architect although it certainly looks as if it might have been, but was rather the work of two relatively unknown Royal Engineer officers. I was discovering on this walk that the 19th century practice of employing military men as architects was more common than I had ever imagined and we have the virtually unknown but obviously talented Colonel Clarke and General Pudsey to thank for this lovely structure.
Just a few paces along from the Visitor Centre is this obelisk which always reminds me of Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment. It is a memorial to Lt. Joseph René Bellot, a Frenchman serving in the Royal Navy. In 1851 he volunteered on the HMS Phoenix which was engaged in searching for the ill-fated Franklin Expedition which had been lost looking for the elusive Northwest Passage above the Arctic Circle in what is now Nunavut Territory, Canada.
The remains of the expedition members were not found until many years later, with their two ships only being discovered in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Despite the expedition’s failure and evidence of cannibalism amongst the members before they died, Franklin is erroneously credited with discovering the Passage and is regarded as a national hero.
Possibly more heroic was young Lt. Bellot who disappeared in a crevasse whilst on a dog-sledding journey to make contact with another rescue mission. The young man was well liked amongst his fellow sailors and the indigenous Inuit alike and his life was commemorated in this monument. He also has a Sound in the Arctic, not to mention an impact crater on the moon, named for him.
In one of my little “everything goes round in circles” interludes, the designer of the obelisk was a man called Philip Hardwick who was at the time Surveyor for the Greenwich Hospital nearby. In addition to his Hospital duties he was also surveyor to the Duke of Wellington and was a good friend of the painter J.M.W. Turner. The artist had studied under Hardwick’s father and Hardwick was an executor of his will. We have met these two notables (Wellington and Turner) more than once, both on this walk and in previous rambles round Kent. It’s a funny old world.
It was only a few yards until the next superb building, again part of the old Naval College and now part of the University. It was pleasant walking past it as this building must house the Music Department and there was some very fine classical music drifting on the air. This is a phenomenon I had noticed before and it was not the only artistic endeavour in the area. It was here that I stopped to talk to a man who had his easel set up and was busily painting the scene across the river on the isle of Dogs. He was extremely chatty as well as an obviously talented artist and he told me that half his pleasure in doing this was the chance he got to talk to people as they passed. I thought it was a lovely way to spend a day and I do wish now that I had taken an image but I didn’t like to.
Along this stretch I also saw the remains of an old landing stage, now long decayed, and I was musing on what momentous events it might have witnessed, leading as it did straight from the river to the Naval College. You can also see the sturdy river defences which are still very much in place and provided a reminder of the constant battle against the Thames following it’s primeval instinct to constantly alter course. Who say rivers aren’t alive?
Still musing on naval comings and goings of days past I was now at the side of the famous Trafalgar Tavern which I have been in once or twice but am not really a huge fan of as it is such a tourist trap. I suppose it should be, due to it’s proximity to the many local attractions and wonderful location but, remarkably, it has not always been a pub.
It was opened in 1837 on the site of an earlier hostelry called the Old George and continued until 1915 when it was converted into a nursing home for aged seamen. I am sure they liked to look out on the river and dream their dreams of days spent on the high seas. In the inter-war period it served as a Working Man’s Club and only resumed it’s intended role in 1965. My favourite memory of the Trafalgar was that it was here that I saw the wonderful Jake Thackray for the only time and he was just superb. That was a long time ago.
Unless you want to walk along the foreshore, which I didn’t even though the tide was out, you dodge round the back of the pub and you get an idea there of how huge it is. Passing the Curlew and Globe Rowing clubs, which share a building, I came to the beautiful Trinity Hospital, nestled literally in the shadow of the massive Greenwich Power Station. Although this Gothic building (one of my favourite styles again) dates only to 1812, the foundation it represents goes back to 1613 when the Earl of Northampton built almshouses here for 12 poor local men and a further eight from his birthplace in Norfolk and this brings me to another Fergy “ramble”.
The Norfolk contingent of the poor were drawn from the area around Shottisham in that County and the manor house there was designed by none other than our old friend, Sir John Soane. You may remember him from days one and two of this walk with his ‘phone box inspiring mausoleum in St. Pancras churchyard.
Not only that but it is currently the seat of Baron Fellowes, a former professional cricketer, Army officer and courtier who happens to be the brother-in-law of the late Diana, Princess of Wales who took up so many column inches of day three’s post. Ramble over with the brief note that I am glad to say the building still performs it’s original function of housing elderly residents and has even expanded in the new Millennium.
Walking past the front of the almshouses had proved a bit of a milestone although I did not know it at the time. I had just crossed from West to East as the famous Greenwich Meridian runs right through them and I was immediately walking past the river frontage of the Greenwich Power Station which I mentioned briefly above. Strangely I did not take an image of the main building, probably in the interest of saving the limited battery life of my new compact camera. I like industrial architecture and this is a fine example although it could hardly be said to be attractive.
Built in the first decade of the 20th century, it originally burned coal to supply power for the London tram system. It is still in use but burns oil today and there are plans to install new gas turbines here to provide low-carbon energy for the Underground and heat for local dwellings. The image here is of the ancillary buildings to the Northeast of the complex.
Another possible explanation for my lack of an image of the power station itself was that I was engrossed in taking images of the wall surrounding it which features a fascinating story of Stan taking his dog for a walk. I won’t spoil it for you but it is worth reading even if it is, well, a bit odd. I have been able to discover that it is the work of Amanda Hinge but I am convinced that this is an alias as I can find out absolutely nothing else about her. As always, if you can help me out I’d be most grateful as you know how much unsolved mysteries annoy me.
I was now in the process of going forward to go back, if that makes any sense. Every stride took took me one step further away from the Cutty Sark tea clipper and one step closer to the pub of the same name, a charming building with a fine view of the Thames and a seating area across the road right by the river wall. The writing on the front of the pub suggests that it has been a Freehouse (i.e. not in a legal contract with any particular brewery as most are) since c.1795 but we already know that the ship was not launched until 1869 so there is obviously something going on. The mystery is easily solved.
A pub called the Union Tavern was opened here in the late 18th / early 19th century and it replaced an even older hostelry called the Green Man. It was not until 1951 that it gained it’s current name when the clipper came to Greenwich. The pub may have been a freehouse back in 1795 when they all were but it is most certainly not now. It is part of the Young’s chain and you may remember them from day two with the disgusting way they shut the Constitution pub in Camden.
To summarise the pub / vessel situation in Greenwich, the pub which is no more then 50′ from the stern of the Cutty Sark clipper is called the Gipsy Moth which itself is now based in Hampshire and the pub that is named for it is half a mile away downstream. Confused? You should be.
Giving the Cutty Sark a wide berth (yes, I know, another awful pun) I carried on along the riverside until I saw, within a few feet of each other, two rather unusual signs
The one on the left here is a rather clever take on the English Heritage blue plaques although this one purports to be placed here by English Hedonists rather than Heritage and claims it was mad (not made) in England. It commemorates the fact that Gordon of Greenwich loved (as opposed to lived) here. Gordon who? I doubted it was my mate Gordon who used to own the Greenwich Inn which I mentioned above but a bit of digging revealed that he was a local hairdresser and all round “character” who died at the young age of 53. If you want to know a bit more about him, have a look here.
The plaque on the right is in an enclosed private garden and really intrigued me when I saw it. It refers to the outbreak of the terrible foot and mouth disease in the UK in 2001 when just shy of four million animals, predominantly sheep, were slaughtered on the slightly odd principle that if all the animals were slaughtered then there would be nothing left to contract the disease, which I suppose is true if a bit extreme. In the event, they slaughtered that vast number of sheep, cattle, goats and deer to combat the 2,030 cases of the disease discovered. Interesting logic employed there.
Onward, ever onward and things took a bit of a downhill turn from then on. Not literally obviously as it was completely flat because we were following the river but you know what I mean.
At the best of times this stretch of the Greenway would be pretty uninspiring as it goes through a semi-abandoned industrial wasteland and these were not the best of times as the images show. There is a huge amount of work going on here, I believe connected to the massive Tideway sewage infrastructure project, and it has left the path in a right old mess.
In the same way as the Greenway takes an apparently pointless detour from Parliament Square to Lambeth Bridge and then along the South bank to almost the same spot, I think the section from Greenwich to the Thames Barrier and beyond to Woolwich is only there to make the route up to the symbolically important 60km. which is required to commemorate H.M. the Queen’s 60 years on the throne. Apart from the Barrier itself and the awful Millennium Dome which we shall come to shortly, there is nothing worth seeing on this stretch on either bank. I think that crossing the river via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel would have been a much better idea. By all means put a loop round Greenwich to take in the many fascinating attractions there and make up the mileage elsewhere on the route but what do I know? I only walk the damned things.
I really don’t expect to have to resort to my walking boots on any designated footpath in central London but I really would have been grateful for them here as I was really having to pick my steps to avoid ruining my trainers.
Passing by a completely incongruous crazy golf course, my mood was further darkened by the sight of this disaster, once the obscenely expensive white elephant called the Millennium Dome and now making money for a Spanish mobile ‘phone giant as a concert venue.
I am not going to start a complete rant here as I am saving that for my next paragraphs but this vanity project for Tony B. Liar and New Labour is best summed up in a few figures. It cost £789 million to build (in excess of £100 million over-budget), run and dispose of. It attracted approximately half the visitors it was supposed to in it’s single year of operation and the manager was sacked one month after she had overseen the public opening. When it closed, the cost of maintenance until sale was £28.7 million when demolishing the eyesore and selling off the land would have realised £48 millon. I think that about covers it.
Earlier on I gave you a spoiler alert when I was still back in Rotherhithe and now I am issuing an official soapbox alert because I am going to get on mine now and have a right old rant. You may well wish to avoid this and I don’t blame you so if you do just scroll down until you see an image of a tower block and you’ll be safe enough!
I won’t offend your eyes by publishing this image full width on the screen but I’d like you to have a quick look at it and consider two scenarios.
In the first scenario a man buys a new TV, can’t be bothered to dispose of the old one properly and so dumps it in an alleyway in a rundown industrial part of town, thereby committing an offence usually known as fly-tipping. This unprincipled person is somehow caught and placed before the Magistrates (lower) Court where he faces a fine of up to £50,000 or 12 months imprisonment. If the matter goes to the Crown (higher) Court for whatever reason then the penalties rise to an unlimited fine or five years in jail although this is very unlikely.
In scenario two a man commits an offence of fly-tipping which is larger in scale than the TV by a figure of perhaps 100,000. The crime takes place not in an unused and unloved back alley but adjacent to one of the nation’s most prestigious long-distance footpaths as well as the path I am currently walking which celebrates a huge milestone in the reign of the monarch. The massive item thus dumped is a slice of a full sized dredger and looks awful. It is only going to get worse as it has been deliberately abandoned here at the mercy of wind and tide so it eventually rusts away to nothing.
Not only is the criminal not prosecuted, he is given a large cheque, patted soundly on the back, air-kissed by the chattering classes as is their wont and told in gushing terms what a clever chap he is. How do these two very different sets of circumstances arise?
In both scenarios the criminal involved is a socially irresponsible litterbug but the difference lies in the ability of the latter environmental vandal to employ the “fine art of bull***t” and this is the only sense in which the word art should be used in relation to what is called “Slice of Reality” by an alleged artist called Richard Wilson. This rusting hulk supposedly represents a piece of art and it won’t surprise you to know that it was commissioned by the Millennium Dome which might explain some of the £789million price tag.
Wilson is a clever man as are all these so-called “modern artists” as he has brilliantly employed the concept of the “Emperor’s new clothes”. If you don’t “get it” then you are obviously some sort of Philistine so the luvvies trip over themselves to praise such nonsense. This has to rank up there with Emin’s condom strewn unmade bed and Hirst’s pickled sheep. One acolyte writes online that this is “an intriguing work of art that is technically high-reaching, experientially melancholy and increasingly charged with ongoing issues related to readymades and recycling in the face of global warming”.
Interestingly, the website this sycophantic piece was published on was partially funded by the Arts Council so the taxpayer is paying somebody to write rubbish (pun absolutely intended) about rubbish which the same taxpayer has already paid through the nose for. As a popular newspaper columnist in the UK is fond of saying, “you couldn’t make it up”.
An information board beside this excrescence quotes Wilson as claiming this represents, “a sound bite communicating Greenwich’s rich maritime history whilst referencing the manner in which the line of the Meridian slices through the Greenwich Peninsula”. Well, that explains everything then.
The madness doesn’t end there as the ability of Wilson to milk a good living from talking pretentious guff seems endless. The Tate Gallery, again partially paid for by the poor old taxpayer, has purchased the working sketches and photographs from the committing of this crime and a scale model constructed by the conman is currently on sale online by a “fine art gallery” (price on application if you are interested).
A good friend of mine, who trained as an artist, once took me to the Tate Modern where one of the “pieces of art” I was subjected to was a looped video of a man masturbating into a boxing glove. Another looped video in the same installation showed the perpetrator repeatedly hitting himself in the head with presumably the same boxing glove. To this day I don’t “get it” although I was undoubtedly helping to pay for it. My friend tried to justify it along the lines that “everything is art” and so on. She spoke very eloquently about it but she had obviously been completely seduced by the “Emperor’s clothes” fantasy as well but on her principle I have come up with a piece of art of my own, partially based on the niche video porn in the Tate.
I would tie Richard Wilson up, spreadeagled and kick him very hard between the legs, videoing the entire action and his reaction. Then I would have the whole thing projected on a continuous loop onto the side of the butchered ship here. I have even thought up my line of drivel for the glitterati, see what you think. “My work is intended to show that the artist, like the prophet, is without honour in his own country and must suffer for the sake of his art. The barbarians are baying at the gates of civilisation and it is the moral duty of every artist to stand up for the nobility of what is right and what is real. That the suffering of the artist is now incorporated in his own work is intended as an indication of the extent of self invested in art by those who practice it”.
What do you think? Is it enough to get me interviewed by the Guardian (left-leaning UK newspaper much favoured by “luvvies”)? Will Channel 4 (UK TV channel, similarly left) be beating a path to my door to make a documentary? Somehow I doubt it as I really am not into self-promotion and I just could not bring myself to spout that drivel with a straight face but it does prompt a serious question. If what my friend says is true about art then isn’t my concept just as artistically valid as a rusting piece of ship that should have been recycled into saucepans long since. At least that would be ethical, recycling and all that.
It would be bad enough if the taxpayer had only had to stump up for a slice of ship but the warped ambition of the Millennium crowd knew no bounds, funded by apparently limitless public money, and it is only one of a number of pieces of nonsense on or close to the prime meridian which are collectively known as “The Line”. The reason for the name is that they supposedly write those words on a map along with a number of public transport stations. To say that the accuracy of the concept was contrived would be to be generous to it.
Rather than try to explain the whole nonsense I have included an image here which attempts to explain the next piece of nonsense I came to, “Liberty Grip” by Gary Hume. At least it is not as aesthetically offensive as Wilson’s effort but I still wonder how much he was paid for sticking three giant shop mannequins arms together and “mischeviously” (their word, not mine) painting the ends pink.
Soapbox stored away.
OK that is the rant over and I am so glad I got it off my chest. You can see here the image I promised as notice of my returning to the walk and that is the main reason for it’s inclusion. Like the tree and tower block earlier, I liked the juxtaposition of the massive geometric tower block with the traditional rounded sculpted lines of the mermaid. I have posted two images here, one to give a sense of scale and one to show the contrast. I do hope I am not coming over all unnecessarily artistic!
Although I had been aware of it for some time, it was along this section that I paused to take an image of the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that runs over the Thames from here to the Royal Docks on the North bank. In truth the image was fairly rubbish and so I have taken the liberty here of including some much better ones I took back in 2011 on a day out with some Virtual Tourist friends which give you a hopefully more visually pleasing idea of what it is like. Regular readers will know that I am not a huge fan of heights and I was obviously terrified up there, it is an experience I don’t intend to repeat even though I am glad I did it once.
Still feeling slightly vertiginous merely from the memory of my cable car trip I brought myself down to Earth by stopping to admire the structure you can see here which I was initially baffled by but soon discovered was a sundial designed by a member of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers (chartered 1568) and constructed by the Royal Engineers. It is one of three identical structures constructed for the Millennium as just about everything here seems to have been. The other two stand in the City of London on the North bank of the Thames near the Millennium (wobbly) Bridge which we passed earlier in the walk and at Chatham in Kent, much further downstream, outside the Royal Engineers Museum.
I have no particular interest in sundials and I don’t seek them out or anything but I warn you now that things are about to get a little odd yet again.
In the time between walking this section of the Greenway in Jaunary 2020 and composing this post in late March of the same year, I received a message from a charming chap in Ilfracombe, Devon relating to my page here about a 2013 trip to that lovely town. My correspondent was part of a volunteer group who tend the Holy Trinity graveyard there and had come upon an image on my page of the sundial there. Unusually in this day and age he was very politely asking for permission to reproduce it on their website rather than just lifting it. Naturally, I was more than happy for him to do so and even felt a bit flattered that anyone would want to use an image of mine.
As part of our online conversation he sent me details of the piece he was writing and it included instructions on how to use a sundial, which I had never even considered before. From the time indicated on the dial, you need to factor in Equation of Time for the date (look it up, it’s complicated), distance East or West of the very line of longitude I had recently crossed and whether there is daylight saving time in operation. It all sounds difficult but he demonstrated on his site that my blog image was a mere two minutes out from the actual time it was taken which impressed me greatly.
Not much further on and with the landmark Thames Barrier becoming ever more visible in the distance downstream, I took a small detour for another slice of nature and a bit more learning as I had spied the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park. Despite the Thames being tidal here, as it is as far upstream as Teddington, this is a freshwater wildlife environment made comfortably accessible by a well maintained boardwalk. It probably looks better in summer but I rather liked the stark appearance of the winter trees and the tranquillity of having the place all to myself.
As I was looping back round to the Greenway I paused to read one of the interesting information boards and this is where the learning came in. There is a good stand of alder trees here and that was the first thing I learned as I didn’t know an alder from an alternator and the second thing I learned was that the collective noun for a group of alder trees is a carr.
I had a great friend in work years ago with the surname Carr and I was idly wondering as I walked whether that was where the surname originated. Naturally, with me being the inquisitive bugger I am I had to look it up and, lo and behold, one of the several possible origins of the surname is a derivation of the Norse kjarr which means swamp so exactly the damp type of environment favoured by the alder. Live and learn.
Leaving the Park behind I was in a slightly symbolic situation as I had the ancient (albeit recently planted) alder carr behind, the very modern Thames Barrier in the distance and in between, well, something in between. The something in between was the not particularly attractive but obviously still functioning pier which turns out to be used for landing about 20 million tonnes of marine aggregate annually for various building and infrastructure projects which have included the Olympic Park, Emirates stadium and Canary Wharf. The thinking is that if you land the aggregate here you save a lot of polluting road miles by lorry, which makes sense I suppose.
Before I got to the Barrier I spotted the two signs you can see above which made me smile a little. The first one is self-explanatory, I do know the difference between currant and current and I don’t condone vandalism but I still thought it was amusing.
I suppose it was because my mind was still in slightly surreal mode from the first sign that prompted my mental image when I saw the second, perfectly sensible sign. I suddenly visualised several elderly men in Barbour jackets and tweed hats festooned with fishing flies sitting on little collapsible stools with fishing rods on stands in front of them whilst another similarly attired chap stood facing them declaiming Shakespeare. I’ll let you work it out yourself while I have a quiet moment here to question my sanity yet again
The Barrier was by now looming very large on my horizon and I can’t believe that the Visitor Centre here is yet another place I have never visited in my 30+ years of living in London. I suppose I had better do it sooner rather than later as we are led to believe that the Barrier will soon be obsolete due to rising global water levels. The structure was only ever designed to last until 2030 when it was built in the 1970’s and opened in 1984 but that was before the current global warming situation so I doubt anyone really knows for sure. What I do know is that computer simulations of a flood without the Barrier show that four of the six places I have lived in London would now be under water which is pretty scary.
Once past the Barrier, and with the images duly taken, I thought that I was back to solely walking the Jubilee Greenway as I had always believed that the Thames Path started / ended at the iconic flood defence but apparently that is no longer the case.
The official position is that the Thames Path proper finishes where I thought it did but that there is now an extension which does not enjoy National Trail status and extends another ten miles or so as far as Crayford on the River Darent. I am quite glad this extension is not “official” because, if it was, it would make a bit of a nonsense of the route map of the path placed to enliven the otherwise drab walkway under the Barrier control centre and which you can see in the images.
Just a short way downstream I was again left wondering why the so-called “Greenway” came out this way as it is far from green walking through a semi-derelict and pretty ugly industrial estate. Again the only answer I can come up with is that it is merely to make up the mileage or, should I say kilometreage? You see, metric doesn’t even suit our language!
What I did notice here was a road sign that I have never seen before and I do a lot of walking about. It informed me that I was on a Quietway, specifically Q14 and with a pictogram of a person apparently carrying a rugby ball and risking doing an Isadora Duncan with his long scarf whilst riding a bicycle. Naturally I had to look up this Quietway business and it turns out to be yet another disgusting waste of taxpayers money.
Cyclists in London are given great priority in traffic matters with a number of what were originally called Cycle Superhighways. These are a menace for pedestrians as cyclists often disregard traffic restrictions and fairly fly along the blue paths, which is coloured blue as that was the corporate colour of the original and now long departed sponsors.
It soon became apparent that not even all cyclists were content with the aggressive riding of some of these idiots and so a system of Quietways were introduced for less-confident cyclists. There were 14 of them although they are confusingly numbered up to Q22. You can only imagine what all this cost in terms of adapting roads, signage etc. and yet within three years they had abandoned the whole concept and were re-branding everything yet again as Cycleways. What a bloody waste.
I can easily understand why this area was used as a Quietway as it is largely abandoned and I happily walked down the middle of the road with no fear of being hit by a vehicle. I was glad to regain the river and find at least a piece of history in the form of an old cannon of indeterminate vintage (I didn’t really look closely) guarding Woolwich from seaborne invasion. I can’t think why anyone would want to attack Woolwich now as the arsenal, about the only thing of any importance here along with the associated Royal Artillery HQ, has long gone, as have the gunners since 2007.
As much a part of history as the arsenal and RAHQ is the Mitre pub, another of the lost pubs that I paused to take an image of for the Lost Pubs website that I contribute to and then it was a brief walk past the ferry to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. I was half-tempted to jump on the ferry as I rather like it but I knew the Greenway went through the Tunnel so I thought I had better do the thing right. Like the Greenwich Tunnel which I had already passed earlier that day, the Woolwich Tunnel has had a relatively recent refurbishment on it’s 1912 structure with smart new passenger operated lifts installed.
When I emerged from the Tunnel in North Woolwich, I was back on “my” side of the River and I was feeling good despite having done a reasonable distance.
Given the knee problems of the previous two days walking this was a relief and I could have gone further but I didn’t want to push my luck. It was not yet 1500 and I had a potential two hours of light left but I knew that the Docklands Light Railway ran nearby and that would take me close to home so I wandered up to King George V DLR station, named for the Dock of the same name which was the last of the proper London Docks to be built (I don’t count Tilbury which is miles away in Essex). The King George V was only begun in 1912 and not finished until 1921 due to the intervention of the First World War. It finally closed in 1981.
I had a bit of a walk from Limehouse station back home and this was a reciprocal route of the one I had taken to get to Limehouse Basin when I inadvertently started this whole project. The day, sadly, was to finish on a bit of a low note with yet another “dead” pub, this time the White Horse in the road that is actually named for it, White Horse Road. Apparently there has been planning permission given to convert the upstairs into flats (no surprise there in Yuppie Central) but retain the ground floor as licensed premises. I’ll believe that when I see it as this place never did much business and was always eclipsed by two decent “heritage” pubs, the Old Ship and the Queen’s Head, both within two minutes walk. I fear the White Horse has pranced in Stepney for the last time.
I did pass more dead pubs on the way home but I have told you their sorry tales before so I’ll not go into it all again. I was glad my knees had decided to play nicely and I had at least managed a reasonable distance if only a fraction of what I used to knock off on a day’s wander with no kit.
In the next episode things come grinding to a halt in more ways than one so stay tuned and spread the word.