Hello once again and welcome to a somewhat ridiculous seventh day of walking the Jubilee Greenway which, considering it is only 35 miles long is pretty poor going but it was only ever intended as a means of getting a bit of exercise whilst I was fairly well grounded due to a succession of hospital appointments. If you haven’t read my previous posts about this jaunt then you may wish to start here. If you have read them, I thank you and let’s go for another walk.
I left you the last time at North Woolwich as it made a convenient break point in terms of public transport home even though I could have gone a bit further that day. My knees, which until very recently had never given me the slightest bother but had decided to start, hadn’t been playing up for a change. Dodgy knees is just a sign of old age for you, I suppose, and my perfidious patellae will feature again today I am sorry to tell you.
It had been four weeks since my last day out on this walk and the simple fact of the matter was that I didn’t really fancy this final section. I used to work in the area I was going to be passing through and much of this section runs in tandem with the Capital Ring which I had completed a few years previously and which will eventually form another series of posts here. I am actually writing this piece in late March whilst in lockdown due to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic which is wreaking havoc globally so I might actually get that written up before I am allowed to get out and about again!
From my previous outings on the section that would hopefully take me from the Northern end of the Woolwich foot tunnel back to the Regent’s Canal which would complete my Greenway circuit, I knew the walking was not exactly thrilling and a large portion of it follows an outfall pipe for waste water with not much of interest to see along it’s length. Still, I usually manage to unearth something of interest on a day’s walk and I do like to complete my little projects, not to mention telling my dear readers all about them, so off I went.
I got the Docklands Light Railway back to King George V station from Limehouse, passing all the closed down pubs I have mentioned on the way, which is never a great start to a day out but I was in good spirits as my knees were well rested and hopefully would be up to a decent day’s walking.
On my way from the Station to my start point, I noticed another building of a type that seems to close about as frequently in London as pubs and that was the former North Woolwich police station. Many days ago on this walk I had passed the now closed and squatted Paddington Green police station, once the highest security “nick” in Britain and, whilst North Woolwich was nowhere near that level, it is just another closure in the Met’s policy of short term book balancing without regard to future efficiency. With this station closed in 2017 and the nearest “big” station at Plaistow similarly disposed of in the same year, the closest properly manned police station is now at Forest Gate and that is literally miles away. They really don’t seem to get it. I had actually taken this image on the previous day’s walk but not included it as that entry was already quite long.
I had been fairly organised and even checked the map online before I began so I knew that the route is a little strange when you come out of the tunnel if you are travelling anti-clockwise as I was. Your route generally takes you a little further East / downstream but to get back on the path you have to initially go the other way and then double back on yourself when you reach the riverside path. No problem, I had that sorted and off I went. I even took images of the tunnel entrance and the place where you double back so I could include them here to assist anyone who may wish to walk this route as the signage isn’t great.
I even took an image of the Woolwich Ferry which I do rather like travelling on. I deliberately took this a bit off-centre so you could see the other ferry coming over. They do slip past each other very efficiently and I was wondering how many crossings each vessel makes in a day. As a rather sad side note, the ferry alongside is named the Ben Woollacott in memory of a 19 year old deckhand who lost his life in an accident on the ferry in 2011. He was the sixth generation of his family to have worked on the river.
I doubled back and walked a few hundred yards to be met by what you can see in the image here. Yet again, as had happened more than once on the South side of the river earlier in the walk, the public right of way was blocked to enable more luxury riverside flats (apartments) to be built. I would have thought the decent thing would have been to put some sort of sign up to save you this unnecessary walk but that would have been too much like common decency for the developers notwithstanding that I am almost sure it is a legal obligation. Back the way I had come and the day really wasn’t putting me in a good mood from the outset.
On the way back I stopped to take this image of yet another closed down building, the old North Woolwich railway station which I remember being in use as it only closed in 2006. Like so many of it’s ilk it has an interesting history and I’ll give you a potted version of it now.
The station was originally opened in 1847 to serve a ferry operating between here and Woolwich as well as providing a link to Stratford so coal could be moved from the adjacent pier to the Eastern Counties of England via the Eastern Counties Railway. The ferry was mainly used to transport workers across to the Woolwich Arsenal but the opening of the free ferry which we have just seen a couple of hundred yards away finished the ferry here. Who would pay when you can get it for nothing?
The Station was badly damaged by the Germans in the Blitz in 1940 and the three platforms were reduced to one. I remember that towards the end of it’s operations there were very few trains coming and going and it was certainly quicker to get the bus to Stratford. Before it closed and for a short while thereafter there was a small rail museum in the old station but it finally shut it’s doors in 2008 and the collection was broken up. It is a sorry sight now and I fear for it’s future.
I knew that the path went past / through the Royal Victoria Gardens so I headed in there and my spirits were slightly lifted by a lovely tree in blossom which I thought was very pretty. I am no botanist but I didn’t think any trees blossomed in February. Even the crane used in the construction of another high-rise eyesore couldn’t quite spoil the image.
Clearing the Gardens, I felt like I was finally underway and I came upon a slipway which confused me a bit then, still does now and I hope the images help you understand why. You could certainly land a boat here but there appears to be no point as you cannot take it ashore nor can you launch anything bigger than a canoe as there is simply no access to the slipway form the adjacent Fishguard Way.
Perhaps it was built in case of a repeat of an incident in 1899 which is still part of local folklore. On 27th November a 66′, 30 ton whale got lost and ended up at the bottom of Barge House Road where it was battered to half death by tugboats (some reports state they were trying to save it) and when it was beached it was battered completely to death by the local populace who proceeded to butcher it for food and souvenirs. Sightseers were charged by the local hotelier to view the carcass. As if the story wasn’t bad enough, the rotting whale eventually burst open revealing two calves inside her. What a sad tale.
I doubt this modern looking jetty is really for whale butchery and it is one mystery I doubt I’ll ever solve. I was still pondering it as I wandered along Barge House Road and past this row of old houses which remarkably survived the Blitz when just about everything in this area was flattened. Merely out of curiosity I had a look at the sale and rental prices of these pretty homes and I can tell you that the watermen and lightermen who once inhabited them would have no chance of affording one now.
At the far end of Barge House Road I looked across Albert Road and there was yet another one, a “dead” pub that is. I remember this as the Round House which was certainly not the place to take your maiden Aunt if you have such a relative. It was particularly known for pretty young ladies taking their clothes off during certain lunchtimes and evenings. No, I can’t do it, I cannot lie to my dear readers. It was known for having some of the oldest and roughest looking strippers in London and it is rumoured that the frequent chant from the local ruffians in there was “get ’em on” in relation to their clothes as opposed to the more traditional “get ’em off”. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Crossing the bascule bridge at the entrance to the old docks I saw the sign which was pretty superfluouse as, just at that moment a ‘plane was coming in to land and I’ll swear I could have hit it with a well aimed stone. You really are only yards from the end of the runway of London City airport here. I have mentioned in other posts on this site that LCY, as it is designated, is far and away my favourite of the so-called London airports of which this is the only one that is actually in London!
I stopped on the Sir Steve Redgrave bridge, named for the famous Olympian and took a few images although I was a bit worried about doing so as I know the police are very touchy about airports for obvious reasons in the modern age. At this range I thought it would be relatively simple matter to get a good image of a ‘plane coming in to land but it proved to be remarkably difficult and, of all the images I took, it is one from sideways on to the runway I have included here. At least there is a ‘plane in the air!
By now I had the dock on one side of me and the University of East London on the other. This is a very modern campus and is one of two, the other being short way away in Stratford near the site of the 2012 Olympics and I believe that part of the ahtlete’s village is actually student accommodation for this University now. It is a very smart new facility as the image shows but, for some people of my generation, myself included, the problem is that it is not a bona fide University. Let me explain.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s the Government of the day made some extravagant claims as to the percentage of school leavers they wanted to enter University education by a certain date. At this point there were two types of tertiary education, Universities that dealt broadly in academic subjects and Polytechnics which taught mostly technical subjects with an emphasis on science and technology. Rather than spend billions on improving secondary education to enable more students to reach the required University standard and billions more in building new Universities, the solution was simple. They just renamed all 35 Polys as Universities and the percentage claim was met at the stroke of a pen in 1992 without the need to spend a penny or improving educational standards one iota. Clever stuff. For this reason the so-called UEL will always be the North East London Poly to me in the same way as the University of Greenwich which we passed in the last section of the walk remains in my mind as the Thames Poly which I remember it as.
It was obviously a school day on campus and the whole area was teeming with young people, presumably students, and the thing that struck me most forcefully was that I barely heard English spoken during my walk through the site. A look at the “university” website includes the proud boast that they have students from 130 countries and I must have heard languages from good proportion of them in the brief time I was there. Of course the Uni’s and Poly’s love foreign students as they can charge them far more for tuition fees than they can for British students so it is a nice little cash cow for them. It is exactly the same situation at what is now called Queen Mary University of London (Queen Mary and Westfield College to me), just up the road from where I live. The local “cheap pub” sounds like the Tower of Babel most days with the students in there eating. QMUL claims students from 160 countries so I really am not making this up.
Leaving the Poly campus behind I was in the middle of the area known as Beckton which is now a predominantly residential area, mostly built since the 1980’s, indeed it was a swamp until the middle of the 19th century and we’ll return to that geological situation in a moment. In another one of those instances of there being too many walk concepts and not enough paths in London, at this point I was following the Jubilee Greenway and Capital Ring although only the latter seemed to be marked. I have to say that the Greenway signage is very poor so if, for some perverse reason, you decide to walk this section just follow the CR signs and you’ll be fine.
Beckton was developed on the back of a gasworks and a sewage plant which doesn’t sound terribly attractive and, in truth, I don’t find the area in any way attractive even now. The name Beckton derives from Simon Thomas Beck who was the first governor of the gasworks when building started in 1868, two years after the building of the sewage treatment plant which was part of Joseph Bazalgette’s scheme to clean up the river Thames. We have encountered Bazalgette before as it was he who created the embankments on both sides of the Thames much further upstream. The main elements of his plan were two massive sewers, one on each side of the river and named, not very imaginatively, the Northern and Southern Outfall Sewers. Much of today’s planned walk is along the now landscaped Northern Outfall which forms the Greenway from Plaistow all the way West to Bow. Development in the newly named Beckton was centred around lower end housing for the workers at both these utility sites.
I’ll just give you a couple of little anecdotes about Beckton here. If you remember Stanley Kubrick’s wonderful 1987 film “Full Metal Jacket”, which follows the story of a platoon of American G.I.’s in training and later in Vietnam, you may recall that the climax of the film was in an urban environment rather than the more traditional Vietnamese jungle. This was all filmed in the by then disused gasworks and the nearby Millennium Mills and the rumour is that it was the film was made in the UK as Kubrick disliked flying and didn’t want to have to go by ‘plane to the Philippines or somewhere else in SE Asia which were the normal locations for Vietnam films. Filming wasn’t helped by the fact that the gasworks were a literally toxic environment with asbestos and other dangerous substances everywhere. They actually blew up half the complex with high explosive to make it look realistically bomb-damaged which apparently cause great interest amongst the locals.
The second anecdote refers to more toxicity in the form of a huge spoil heap from the gasworks near where I was. It reputedly has a full sized railway locomotive in it which was buried after being destroyed in the Blitz as it was easier than cutting it up. During the period of regeneration under the London Docklands Development Corporation, this tip was turned into an artificial ski-slope known as Beckton Alps, complete with an Alpine bar which was notorious for Friday and Saturday night fights when the locals had too much Glühwein or whatever in them. The Alps was officially opened by Diana, Princess of Wales who we have spent a lot of time with earlier in this walk. Only in London could planners think of having people skiing on poisonous industrial waste. I really do despair of them.
After the Second World War, the whole area was used to house people displaced by the Blitz in pre-fabricated dwellings which were only supposed to have a lifespan of 10 – 15 years and yet some of them were still serving as homes 50 years later. When the relatively light pre-fabs were replaced with conventional housing there was a problem, a big problem. As I mentioned before the whole area is geologically a swamp and it could not physically support the weight of all the new bricks and mortar housing and associated infrastructure. Subsidence is a horrendous problem here and there were many instances of people buying what were relatively inexpensive homes by London standards and then being saddled with negative equity on mortgages for houses they couldn’t sell because they were sinking into the ground. Many new homeowners found they could not even get home insurance. I knew a few people caught in this awful situation when I was working out that way.
I saw a good, if small, example of the problem in one of the parks I walked through where the ground was obviously sinking on one side of the path. I could have taken dozens of such images and in some places the road was actually sinking away from the pavement but I’ll let this one suffice.
I noticed another problem caused by a natural phenomenon in the same park with an obviously recently blown down tree which had not yet been cleared. I suspect this was a result of Storm Ciara which had battered it’s way across the UK not long before.
Apart from the problems caused by lack of common sense in town planning and natural phenomena I was beginning to experience a few problems of my own. Those past-it patellae of mine had started playing up again and to add insult to injury (or should that be injury to injury?) my back had decided to come out in sympathy. It was as frustrating as it was uncomfortable because I had finally worked up the enthusiasm to do this particular stretch and here I was scuppered with only a couple of miles walked.
I tried resting for a bit by sitting on a park bench and watching the ‘planes take off nd land. It was pleasant enough but all it did was make it agonising to try to get going again. I did try to walk it off but it was never going to happen. This walk was always designed as a healthy piece of gentle exercise and not an endurance march so, whilst it was extremely annoying, I wasn’t going to risk doing myself serious injury by forcing myself on. What would be the point in that? I hobbled round to Stansfield Road and jumped on a bus up to East Ham to get a Tube home rather earlier than expected.
At this point in a post I would normally tell you what I m going to get up to in the next instalment but the sad fact is that there doesn’t look like being a next instalment any time soon. As I mentioned at the top of this piece, I am writing this at the end of March and am effectively a prisoner in my own home in light of Government regulations to combat the awful CoVid-19 pandemic. I have been out of the house twice briefly in the last fortnight to go food shopping and that is it. Today’s “happy” news from a Government Doctor is that anything approaching normality is not going to happen for at least six months and I have read some credible scientific opinion that says it will be about 18 months until it is vaguely under control, if indeed it ever is. Quite honestly, I don’t think any of the so-called experts has the slightest idea and they are all just guessing but only time will tell.
I suppose if there is any small crumb of comfort in this whole terrible situation it is that I have no excuse for not catching up on some of the projects I still have to do here. I know I’ll never get them all done. I have not quite decided what the next series of entries is going to be but I’ll post details on the “sticky” page at the front of the blog so check there.
I am sorry that this series remains unfinished and has petered out in such an anti-climactic fashion but there is really nothing I can do about it. There will be much more to come from, well, who knows where, so stay tuned and spread the word.