Swiftstone is pleased and proud to bring
this definitive Thames Guide to the Internet. It has been compiled by Bob Jeffries
of the Metropolitan Police's Thames Division... who better! This is
their working patch and they know it as well (if not better) than anyone
The guide details landmarks and features
along stretches of the river that are rarely mentioned in the tourist
guides - starting at Woolwich and travelling up river to Battersea.
There's a wealth of fascinating information
here from the historic to the present day. It's taken a huge amount
of work to put this together and Bob is to be congratulated for creating
this unique resource. We hope you will find it interesting and useful,
if you would like to contact the author click
here to e-mail Bob direct.
Bob Jeffries is the curator of the Thames
division's own museum & archive - they have an incredible collection
- get in touch with him direct for more information.
Photos illustrating the Thames Guide
will be added soon from the Thames Div. archive. If you would like your
own illustrated copy Bob will happily supply one - for a small donation
A River Thames Guide - Woolwich
The free ferry service began at Woolwich in 1889 but there has probably
been a ferry service operating there since at least the 14th century.
The craft used in 1889 were paddle steamers which crossed the river
between two floating landing stages.
Today there are three ferries which can be used; "John Burns", "James
Newman" and "Ernest Bevan". They operate between two fixed land terminals
which have been in place since 1966.
As an alternative to the ferry, pedestrians may use the foot tunnel
from Woolwich to North Woolwich.
The tunnel was completed in 1912 at a cost of £87,000. It is 1,655ft
long and at low water is about 38ft beneath the water which increases
to about 69ft at high tide.
The dockyard was founded in 1513 by Henry VIII for the building of his
new ship, the "Great Harry". At 1500 tons it was the largest ship of
it's day. The vessel also ended it's days at Woolwich when it was destroyed
by fire in 1553. When the "Sovereign of the Seas" was built here in
1637 the dockyard had been enlarged and access could be gained to the
rope yard which was completed in 1574. The gatehouse and clockhouse
were built between 1780-1789. The yard continued to be enlarged until
the middle of the 19th century in order to build steamships. The gun
bastions overlooking the river were added at this time, as were the
two graving docks, used for cleaning ships hulls. These docks are now
a water sports area. In 1869 the yard closed, 'to the sadness of the
The area is now a community housing estate. The clockhouse, which had
been restored, is now a community centre and sadly, looks once more
in need of saving.
The Woolwich Barrier
'There was last night the greatest tide that ever was remembered in
England to have been on this river all Whitehall having been drowned.'
These are the words written by Pepys for 7th December 1663. That was
not the only occasion of flooding in central London. In 1236, Whitehall
Palace was flooded so that they did 'row with wherries in the midst
of the hall.' central London last flooded in 1928 with 14 people drowned
and if the tragic flooding of the Thames estuary and east coast in 1953,
when 300 people lost their lives, had reached London the results would
have been catastrophic.
The risk of flooding in the London area is at it's highest when a series
of factors combine together simultaneously to cause abnormally high
tides. The first factor is usually a trough of low pressure tracking
eastwards across Scotland. This low pressure causes the sea beneath
it to rise and form a "hump" of water. If the depression moves south
and combines with a spring tide, the resulting surge of water can give
dangerously high tide levels in London. The risk is increased further
if there has been heavy rain in the London area at the same time.
To combat this threat a series of precautions were taken to prevent
any calamitous floods occurring in the near future. The most obvious
being the Thames Flood Barrier at Woolwich.
The barrier consists of a series of gates which spread across the river
for 520 metres. The main navigation channel of the river is covered
by the four main gates or "rising sectors", each of these is fitted
between two large piers. Each of the gates is attached at either end
to a rotating drum which can, if necessary, turn through 360 degrees.
When the gate is not required it sits in a sill on the bed of the river
allowing vessels to pass over the top. If the gate has to be raised,
the drums rotate and present the bevelled side of the gate at 90 degrees
to the incoming tide. Each gate is about 20 metres high and with counterweights
weighs about 3,700 tonnes. Each gate can hold back a load of 9,000 tonnes
of water. In addition to the main gates there are smaller "falling sector"
gates at either end of the barrier. When the barrier is fully raised
it does not totally stop all the incoming water. Some of the water can
pass underneath the gates, so the tide on the upriver side does rise,
but at a much slower and controlled rate.
Work began on the barrier in 1974 and it became operable in October
1982. The barrier was raised for the first time to prevent possible
flooding in February 1983 and was officially opened by the Queen on
May 8th 1984. The total cost of London's flood defences was about £535
million. The cost of maintaining and operating the Woolwich Barrier
is about £3.3 million per year.
This industrial area along the north bank of the river is part of the
London borough of Newham.
Tate and Lyle have had their main works here since 1880 and ships are
regularly along side the jetty. The current Portland stone building
is called Plaistow Wharf and dates from the 1930's. Through the barrier
is the un-aptly named Primrose Wharf. Here is a factory which processes
animal carcasses for use in various products like soap and glue. The
smell and glare from the furnaces remind one of anything but primroses.
In 1917 Silvertown was the scene of a large explosion at a chemical
works when 50 tons of TNT exploded, devastating much of the surrounding
area. The accident left 69 dead and 45 injured. the damage was estimated
at £2.5 million.
Royal Group of Docks
Stretching from the top of Bugsby's Reach down to Gallions Reach, the
Royal Group of Docks were the last of the enclosed docks to be opened
in London. The group were not complete until the King George V Dock
opened in 1921, that combined with the Royal Victoria and the Albert
to complete the complex which covered some 245 acres and formed the
largest area of enclosed dock water in the world.
The Victoria was opened in 1855. The soil which was excavated was taken
up river and was used to create Battersea Park which opened in 1859.
The dock was owned by the St. Katherine Dock Company. They merged with
the London Dock Company and enlarged the dock to the east, the new dock
was called the Albert Dock and it opened in 1880. The Albert was threequarters
of a mile long and had three miles of quay.
The building of the King George V Dock was delayed by the war and the
PLA did not complete it until 1921, although smaller than the other
two in the group it was designed to take the biggest ships then afloat
and in 1939 the P&O liner "Mauritania", at 35,655 tons, entered the
The docks dealt with passengers as well as goods. The docks handled
bulk grain and as refrigeration methods improved, meat and fruit. During
the war, the docks served as an important naval and arms base.
Today the docks are home to London City Airport, the runway lies between
the Albert and King George Docks.
A short distance past the old Victoria Dock entrance is Bow Creek which
forms the tidal section of the River Lea. On the west side of the river
mouth is a curious lighthouse which stands on land once owned by Trinity
House. The lighthouse was used by them for training purposes.
It is thought that London's first settlers, the Romans, may have used
the Lea as a route to Verulanium, a location which is now between the
modern towns of St. Albans and Hemel Hempstead. In 896 King Alfred is
believed to have chased the invading Danish fleet up the Lea. What any
of those ancient groups would make of Bow Creek today, with it's factories
and industries must remain a mystery.
Not far along the creek is Bow Locks this provides an entrance to the
Regent's Canal via the Limehouse Cut and to the Lea Navigation which
heads north to Hertford and Bishops Stortford.
East India Dock
On the north bank at Blackwall is the East India Dock which is built
on the site of the Brunswick Dock which in turn was built on the site
of the Blackwall Dock. This original dock, about an acre and a half
in size, was used entirely for ship building and was founded during
the reign of Charles II. In 1789 the Brunswick Dock was built by one,
Mr. Perry, this incorporated the old dock and increased the size to
about 8 acres. It was still used almost entirely for ship building and
one of it's main features was a 120ft mast house with a crane, which
was used for "stepping" in ships masts. That remained a landmark until
it's removal in 1862.
Following the lead given by it's rival, the West India Co. The East
India Co. decided to open it's own dock. Having acquired the Brunswick
Dock it set about making it big enough for it's own use. The engineers
were John Rennie and Ralph Walker who based their design on the proven
success of having a large import dock of 18 acres and a much smaller
export dock. It opened in 1806 and handled all manner of goods from
India and China. Launched in 1869, the clipper, "Cutty Sark" was a regular
Commercial Road was originally a toll road built as a joint venture
between the East and West India Companies to give access to the docks.
In 1838 the two companies also merged their docks.
During the Second World War the import dock was pumped dry and like
South Dock of the Surrey Commercial Docks used to construct Mulberry
Harbours for the "D Day" landings. The dock was the first of all the
docks to suffer closure in 1967.
On land close to the docks was built the Brunswick Power Station which
was demolished a few years ago. The power station was built on the site
of Brunswick House, from where, in 1606 the Company of Merchant Venturers
departed to found the state of Virginia. The 105 people left in three
ships: "Susan Constant", "Godspeed" and "Discovery". The first being
of 100 tons and the last being of just 20 tons. Replicas of these ships
are apparently on show in Jamestown, Virginia. This being the site of
the first town that the company founded. A small stone monument marks
the spot on the river front.
East Greenwich Gas Works
This large area of what is now waste land was used as a gas terminal.
Ships from the coal fields would unload their cargo and gas would be
extracted for household use. In later days the gas was produced by converting
liquid methane which was imported from Africa. Home produced North Sea
gas spelt the end for the terminal. The site has now been earmarked
as the site of the Millenium Exhibition.
The northbound tunnel, designed by Sir Alexander Binnie, was the first
ever road tunnel built under the Thames and was completed in 1897 by
means of using a "Greathead" tunnelling shield and compressed air. This
method was a big step forward in tunnel engineering. The tunnel was
4,410ft long. When the tunnel became to small to cope with the volume
of traffic a second tunnel was dug. This was designed by Thomas Blashill
and was completed in 1967. It is 2,870ft long. The ventilation shafts
for the two tunnels can be seen on either side of the river.
Near to the ventilation shaft on the north bank can be seen the old
river police station of Blackwall, The station was closed some years
ago and it's patrol area was taken over by boats based at Wapping. The
building was converted into apartments.
Greenwich Power Station
The unusually shaped power station just below Greenwich is owned and
run by London Transport and along with the Lots Road power station,
provides power for the underground system. It was built in 1906. The
station was originally built by the LCC in order to provide power for
the tram system. The station was given over to the underground system
in the 1950's when trams gave way to buses.
In the shadow of the power station is Trinity Hospital. It was built
in 1613 by Henry Howard, the Earl of Northampton, for twenty male pensioners.
The hospital was also called Norfolk College after Howard's birthplace.
The building was restored in 1812 and contains part of his tomb and
also a fine 16th century Flemish stained glass window depicting the
betrayal, crucifixion and ascension of Christ.
'Greenwich breathes serenity and reconcilement.' Was a comment of one,
H.J. Massingham when taking a boat trip down the Thames in 1932, he
went on to say about the college; 'the sight of the Royal Naval College
set like a jewel of unexampled lustre in that drab scenario between
the Surrey Commercial Docks and the opening curves of Blackwall Reach.'
The name derives either from the Anglo-Saxon, meaning, green village
or from the Danish, meaning, green reach. The Danes sailed up the Thames
and camped in the vicinity of Greenwich in 1011. They held the Archbishop
of Canterbury, Alphege, captive here for eight months before killing
him when he refused to allow a ransom to be paid for him. A church dedicated
to St. Alphege still stands in the High Street. The present church was
consecrated in 1718. It was designed by John James of Greenwich and
has a Nicholas Hawkesmore exterior.
Greenwich was part of Lewisham Manor and belonged to Ethelruda, a niece
of King Alfred, She gave both to the Abbey of St. Peter at Ghent. In
1414, it passed to the Carthusian priory at Sheen, and in 1530 it became
crown property. The area was a favourite with royalty, especially the
Tudors, King Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I were all born in Greenwich
After the Civil War, most crown properties were sold but Greenwich was
retained as a residence for Oliver Cromwell and after the Restoration
it passed back to the crown.
Apart from royalty, Greenwich has had many famous residents. Samuel
Johnson lived in Church Street and was visited there by Boswell.
General Wolfe set sail from Greenwich for Quebec in 1757 and when he
was brought back dead, in 1759, he lay in state in McCartney House which
was owned by his father. He was buried In St. Alphege's Church and a
statue is erected to his memory on top of the hill in Greenwich Park,
by the observatory. Henry VIII was baptised in St. Alphege's and his
sister, Mary, was baptised and married there. The man who later was
to become Gordon of Khartoum was also baptised there and Thomas Tallis,
the composer, is buried there. St. Alphege's Church is the more prominent
of the churches which can be seen from the river, the other church is
Our Lady Star of the Sea.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel
Running under the Thames from Greenwich to Island Gardens is a tunnel
which was built to replace the ferry service which had been in use since
1676. The tunnel was built for the workers in the West India Docks.
The tunnel's diameter is 11ft and it's length is 1,217ft. It cost a
total of £127,000 and has a total of 200,000 glazed white tiles. At
low water the tunnel is reckoned to be about 33ft beneath the surface.
Archaeological investigations around the area which is now Greenwich
Park have revealed a bronze age settlement as well as what is thought
to have been a Roman villa which was situated on the east side of the
What later became Greenwich Park began life as the grounds of a country
home for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the younger brother of Henry
V. In 1427 he bought land to build a house which was the forerunner
of Greenwich Palace. The land he bought stretched for a mile from the
Thames to Greenwich Hill. His nephew, Henry VI, gave him permission
to extend his land in 1433 and upon his death in 1447, all the land
passed to Henry VI himself who set about turning the house into one
of the main royal palaces.
King Henry VIII ordered that deer be kept in the park as game for the
royal hunts. Henry spent a lot of his time in the park, it is said that
he loved to go "a maying" there and he also tilted and shot at butts
on the flat ground at the bottom of the hill. In 1526 Henry rebuilt
the watch tower at the top of the hill. It was at a tournament held
in the park on May Day 1536 that Anne Boleyn is said to have dropped
a handkerchief as a signal to a lover, that night, the four men said
to be concerned, including her brother, were arrested and taken to the
Tower, followed the next day by Anne herself.
Greenwich Park remained a favourite with future monarchs and many improvements
were made, including the planting of trees and the laying of formal
gardens. In 1619 James I built a stone wall around the park and in 1675
Sir Christopher Wren built the observatory on top of the hill.
In the 18th century Greenwich Park was opened to the public and in 1855
a steamboat service from London to Greenwich began, this was followed,
a year later, by a train service from London Bridge to Deptford. These
improvements in transport made it much easier for Londoners to travel
to and from Greenwich and the area soon became hugely popular with visitors.
Greenwich appears to have had royal connections since as early as 1300
when Edward I (Longshanks), made an offering of seven shillings at each
of the holy crosses in the Chapel of the Virgin Mary at Greenwich. Henry
IV dated his will Jan. 22nd 1408 from his manor at Greenwich, however,
it was Henry V's brother, Humphrey, who we know took the first important
steps to making Greenwich the royal favourite it was to become.
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, began what became Greenwich Palace in
1427, he called it Bella Court. It was one of the finest houses in the
country with a moat, battlements and a watch tower on top of the hill.
It boasted the first great privately owned library which on his death
passed to the Bodliean Library, Oxford.
Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou took over the house and named
it "Placentia" (the pleasant place). The house grew to be a palace and
was a favourite of the Plantagenates. Edward IV allowed a Franciscan
church and friary in the grounds.
The Tudors continued the royal patronage of Greenwich and under them
the palace reached it's peak of popularity. In 1501 Arthur, Prince of
Wales, married Catherine of Aragon there, a marriage that was going
to be so important to Catherine nearly 30 years later, even though the
marriage was probably never consummated. Catherine's second husband,
Henry VIII, made Greenwich his favourite residence. Here he could partake
of all his pastimes in the grounds and visit his navy in the nearby
Deptford Dockyard. He turned Greenwich Palace into a large complex with
a huge ghettoise and three quadrangles. In 1516 Princess Mary was born
here. Catherine was held a prisoner here between 1529 and 1531. In 1533
Princess Elizabeth was born at the palace. In 1536, during the dissolution
of the monasteries, 200 monks from the friary were made prisoners and
it was here that Henry signed Anne Boleyn's death warrant.
Henry's son, Edward VI, died here in 1553 and on her coming to the throne
Mary I recalled the friars to the palace. Mary herself visited the palace
only rarely, this may have been because of the unhappy memories that
the palace held for her or may have been because on one of her visits,
a cannon fired a royal salute and the cannon ball smashed through the
walls of her private apartments, fortunately, no one was injured.
Greenwich Palace was the main residence for Queen Elizabeth I and it
was here that Sir Walter Raleigh threw his cloak over a puddle for the
Queen to walk on to save her from getting her feet wet. Elizabeth revived
the Maundy Service at Greenwich. In this service the Queen distributed
alms to thirty nine of the areas poorest people and also washed their
feet. However, it is known that all the feet were in a clean condition
before they got close to her.
Her successor, James I made the palace over to his queen, Anne of Denmark.
It was for her that Inigo Jones designed The Queen's House, which was
built just to the south of "Placentia".
In 1652, Cromwell's forces attempted to sell the palace but could not
find a buyer so they stripped the palace of it's wealth and part of
it became a biscuit factory and a prisoner of war camp.
After the Restoration, in 1660, Charles II had a grand plan to rebuild
the palace to the plans of John Webb, nephew and pupil of Inigo Jones,
however, he lost interest and the scheme foundered for lack of money
with only the King Charles Building completed.
William and Mary preferred Kensington and Hampton Court and the remains
of the palace were demolished to make way for the Royal Naval Hospital
designed by Wren, Hawkesmore and Vanbrugh in 1694.
Greenwich Palace and park were given to Anne of Denmark by her husband,
King James I in 1605. In 1616 designer Inigo Jones was commissioned
to build a house for her. On her death the unfinished house passed to
the wife of Prince Charles, Henrietta Marie. She asked Jones to complete
the house, which he did in the "Palladian" style. The "House of Delights",
as she called it was H shaped and built on either side of the Deptford-Woolwich
Road. It was completed in 1635.
The house was a grand affair with a forty foot high entrance hall and
a magnificent "tulip" staircase and ceilings painted by Gentleleschi
and other wonderful works of art.
When the parliamentarians gained control in 1642, the treasures were
sold even though the house itself was kept. In 1660, after the Restoration,
Henrietta Marie returned and had extra rooms added to a design by John
The house was passed to succeeding queens; Catherine Of Braganza, wife
of Charles II and Mary Of Modena wife of James II. With William and
Mary, the house received less royal visits and it was made the residence
of the Greenwich Ranger, who, in 1690-7, was the Earl of Dorset. He
was succeeded by the Earl of Romney who diverted the Deptford-Woolwich
Road to it's present route, it is now called Trafalgar Road.
In 1805 the house was sold to the Royal Naval Asylum School for Seamen's
Orphans. In 1809 the wings were added to accommodate the 950 pupils
and the colonnades were added to mark Nelson's victory at Trafalgar.
In 1934-6 the house was restored to be opened in 1937 as the National
Maritime Museum. This museum has on display exhibits and works of art
depicting British maritime history, and regularly has major maritime
Royal Naval College
After the Restoration, Charles II decided that a new palace should be
built to replace "Placentia". The new palace was to be to a design by
John Webb, however, the project floundered in 1669 owing to a lack of
royal interest and money. Only one part had been completed, The King
In 1692 Queen Mary was so distressed by the sight of the wounded after
the battle of "La Hogue" that she ordered the building of the Royal
Naval Hospital to rival the recently completed Royal Hospital at Chelsea.
Wren gave his services as architect free of charge and he was assisted
by Nicholas Hawkesmore. He demolished the old palace except for an undercroft
which was part of the palace built in James I reign. This undercroft
now lies under the Queen Anne Building.
The new design was controversial, Queen Mary had asked that the view
of the "Queen's House" be unobstructed. In order to get around the problem,
Wren split the buildings, thus giving us the splendid view that we have
at Greenwich today. The last building to be completed was Queen Anne's
Building in 1728, it was finished by Thomas Vanbrugh to Wrens original
design. The finished complex has four main buildings. The King Charles
and Queen Anne Buildings overlook the Thames and the King William and
Queen Mary Buildings house the Painted Hall and chapel respectively.
The diarist Evelyn, noted that the foundation stone for the hall and
the chapel were laid on June 9th 1698 and that a lottery was established
the following year to help with the lagging funds and also that the
hospital opened in 1705.
The famous Painted Hall was decorated by James Thornhill, he began his
work in 1708 and did not complete his task until 1727. He was paid at
the princely rate of £3 per square yard for the ceiling and £1 for the
walls. The magnificent ceiling shows William and Mary handing "Peace"
and "Liberty" to Europe. The hall was originally the hospital refectory.
In 1805 Admiral Lord Nelson lay in state inside the hall after his death
The chapel, designed by Wren and not completed until 1742, was destroyed
by fire. It was later rebuilt by James Stuart.
The whole complex had an unhappy time as a hospital, many people thought
it far to grand a place to be used as such. One, Captain Baillie said
'Columns colonnades and friezes ill accord with bully beef and sour
beer mixed with water.' There were frequent allegations of cruelty and
maladministration. In 1873 the Royal Naval College moved from Portsmouth
to take over the building for the training of naval officers. Part of
the college even contains a small nuclear reactor. Today there is talk
of selling off the lease of the building into private hands, thus ending
naval associations with Greenwich.
Standing just in front of the King Charles Building is a red granite
obelisk. This is a memorial to Joseph Rene Bellot, a gallant young French
sailor who died during the search for Sir John Franklin in 1853.
Dreadnought Seaman's Hospital
From 1821 until 1870 hospital care for sick seaman was provided inside
the hulks of moored, ex-warships. The first vessel used was the "Grampus"
which was later replaced by the "Dreadnought". After 1870 the Seaman's
Hospital Society took the sick ashore to the infirmary of the Royal
Hospital. Which was named "Dreadnought", after the old ship. The infirmary
was built in 1763 to a design by James Stuart. It was rebuilt in 1812
after fire seriously damaged the building. In 1948 the National Health
Service took over the hospital until its closure in 1986. Hospital care
for seamen is now provided at St. Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth. A red ensign
can be seen flying from the hospital where it overlooks the Thames.
The seaman's medical unit within the hospital retains the name "Dreadnought".
Charles II appointed John Flamsteed the first "Astronomical Observator"
(the forerunner of astronomer royal) in 1675. His instructions were
'forthwith to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to
the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens and the places
of the fixed stars so as to find out the so much desired longitude of
places for the perfecting the art of navigation.' His first observatory
was in the Tower, however, he was soon looking for a more suitable,
At Wren's suggestion he decided upon Greenwich Hill and Wren duly set
about building him his observatory for which King Charles II paid and
provided the materials. This reflected Charles II's interest in scientific
and technological advances.
The Octagon Room had a high ceiling to accommodate Tompion's pendulum
clocks and Flamsteed provided his own equipment and made some 30,000
observations which formed the basis of his "Historia Coelestis Britannica".
In 1720 Flamsteed was succeeded by the famous Edmond Halley who installed
still more equipment. He and following astronomers maintained the observatory's
place at the forefront of astronomy .
In 1833 the time ball was added on top of the Octagon Room. The ball
is raised each day at 1255 and then dropped at 1300 GMT as a time signal
to shipping on the Thames. In 1839 the Altazimuth Pavilion was opened,
it is the onion shaped dome to the left of the main observatory, it
houses a 28 inch refracting telescope.
In 1933 TIM was run from Greenwich but in 1957, the staff of the Royal
Observatory started to move to Herstmonceux in Sussex in order to escape
the air pollution of London. In 1953 the building was opened to the
public as part of the National Maritime Museum.
In 1767 the British National Almanac was first published and became
indispensable for all navigators. However, this did not solve an international
maritime problem which owed as much to diplomacy as it did to science.
Each maritime country used it's own capital as the line of zero degrees
longitude which was essential for navigation. This meant that there
could be no international charts or any form of standardisation. It
was not till 1884, at an international conference in Washington that
it was finally agreed that the meridian which passes through the Royal
Observatory in Greenwich should be the "Prime Meridian" or zero degrees
longitude. A brass rail set into the ground at the observatory marks
the line and at night a laser beam shines along the meridian crossing
the river near Blackwall.
Named after the short shirt or chemise worn by Nan, the witch in Robert
Burns' "Tam o' Shanter", "Cutty Sark" was the last and arguably the
fastest of the "clipper" ships. She was built in Dumbarton in 1869 and
was still carrying cargo up until 1922 when she was bought and restored.
She was mostly used on the tea trade from China and India where her
speed was essential because of the cargoes perishable nature. Her fastest
speed was logged at 17.5 knots and she once covered 363 miles in 24
hours. "Cutty Sark" never covered the home passage from China in less
than 100 days (103 days), however, this was probably due to the cautious
nature of her skippers. When she was placed on the Australian wool run
she was really able to show her speed. Under Captain Woodget, she once
covered Sydney to the Lizard in 67 Days. Since 1954 "Cutty Sark" has
been in dry dock at Greenwich where she is used as a maritime museum.
Gipsy Moth IV
Francis Chichester, at the age of sixty five, set out from Plymouth
on 22nd August 1966 and returned to Plymouth nine months later on 28th
May 1967 having completed the first single handed circumnavigation of
the world in his 54ft ketch, "Gipsy Moth IV". The 29,630 mile voyage
was completed in 226 days of sailing.
On 13th June 1967 Her Majesty knighted Chichester at the Royal Naval
College using the same sword that Elizabeth I used to knight Sir Francis
Drake. "Gipsy Moth IV" is now on permanent display along side "Cutty
A short distance to the west of Greenwich, is Deptford. Named after
the deep ford which crossed the Ravensbourne slightly up river of where
it joins with the Thames. This small fishing village rose to prominence
when Henry VIII decided to use it as a dockyard to build his navy. It
was called the Royal Dock but was also known as the King's Dock. Deptford
was a convenient place for Henry to oversee the building of his navy
and it was also a haven safe from attack by any of the King Henry's
Under the Tudors the dockyard grew in size and importance. Elizabeth
I visited Francis Drake aboard the "Golden Hind" when it was in the
yard and knighted him there. So many people gathered on a small wooden
bridge to catch a glimpse of her that the bridge collapsed and the people
fell into the water, fortunately, with no loss of life. When the "Golden
Hind" was taken out of service, Elizabeth ordered that it be kept in
Deptford Creek 'as a memorial of national honour and imperial enterprise.'
It was used as a banqueting venue and there it remained until it fell
to pieces. What remained of the ship was made into a chair and was given
to The Bodleian Library, at Oxford. It is now at Drake's family home
at Buckland Abbey, near Plymouth, together with Drake's Drum.
Pepys visited the dockyard frequently in his official capacity as secretary
to the Admiralty and mentions the dockyard often in his diaries. Another
diarist, Evelyn, owned a house in Deptford. In 1694 Evelyn let his house
in Deptford to a Captain Benbow (later the famous admiral), however,
he found him to be a most unsatisfactory tenant. So, in 1698, Evelyn
jumped at the chance of renting out his house to the young Peter (later
to become Peter The Great, Tzar Of All The Russias). The young Russian,
apparently, worked very hard as a carpenter in the yard, while learning
the basics of marine engineering; and then played even harder in the
local taverns at night. He turned out to be an even worse tenant than
Benbow and he wrecked the house and garden of which Evelyn was particularly
proud. Sir Christopher Wren was asked to assess the damage and valued
it at £350. All are now remembered in local street names. Evelyn's beloved
garden is now an overgrown recreation ground.
In 1742 the Royal Victoria Victualling Yard was added to the dockyard
complex. There they stored every thing needed to keep the navy in business
from rope to rum. One rum vat alone was said to supply 32,000 gallons
of spirit. The watergate and some of the rum warehouses, which date
from about 1789, still exist to be seen today and form part of the Pepys
In 1776 Captain Cook's Ships "Resolution" and "Discovery" were fitted
out at Deptford before his fateful last voyage to the Pacific. The yard
was not closed until 1869.
Shipping can still navigate up Deptford Creek and "sand boats" regularly
have the bridge at Creek Road raised for them to pass. However, the
days when ships used to take precedence over the trains on the Dartford
to Charing Cross Line have passed. Until recently, if a vessel needed
to navigate above the bridge and the tide was too high to allow it,
then they could have the rail bridge lifted in order to allow their
passage. Unfortunately, very few vessels of any size venture that far
up the creek now and even if they did, the mechanism now seems to be
in a derelict condition and the engineers of Railtrack doubt that they
will ever get the bridge to lift again.
Up river of the old dockyard is Convoy's Wharf. This is a large wharf
with a "ro-ro" facility for shipping which brings paper into London.
It was built on the site of the old foreign cattle market, where stock
was imported prior to slaughtering and refrigeration. The market itself
was built over part of the old King's Dock.
St. Nicholas' Church
Just behind the flats at Deptford is St. Nicholas' Church, it is a 17th
century church with a ragstone tower which dates from about 1500.
On the pillars as you enter the gates are two large skulls lying on
crossbones with wreaths, this symbolises victory over death. A local
legend also states that Captain Henry Morgan took these as the basis
for the "Jolly Roger" ensign. Also in the churchyard is a plaque to
Christopher Marlowe, a Tudor dramatist who was killed in a tavern brawl
nearby. He was an atheist and is thought to be buried elsewhere. The
more ornate church spire which can be seen belongs to St. Paul's Church,
Deptford High Street.
In 1514, after concern was expressed about the quality and loyalty of
seafarers who were navigating on the Thames, Henry VIII awarded a charter
to the 'Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity Brotherhood
of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity and of St. Clement in the
Parish of Deptford Stronde in the county of Kent.' Their duty was the
defence and pilotage of the Thames and they had the power to make laws
for the 'Relief, increase and augmentation of the shipping of this our
realm of England.'
So, the first Trinity House was erected close to the Royal Dock at Deptford.
In 1566 Parliament extended it's duties to set up bouyage at other locations
around the coast. In 1660 Trinity House moved to Water Lane, Lower Thames
Street. However the brotherhood returned to Deptford each Trinity Monday
to attend a church service and elect a new Court. This continued until
In 1796 Trinity House moved to it's present site at Tower Hill and is
now the principle lighting and bouyage authority in the country.
Ever since commercial craft first began to sail up the Thames in Roman
times, safe places in which vessels can be loaded and unloaded have
been of great importance. As time went by docks and quays like Queenhithe
and Billingsgate became vital to London's economy.
When a vessel came into London it looked to unload it's cargo as quickly
as possible. While there were relatively few ships and lots of quays
eager to receive them there were no problems, however, as London grew
in importance the number of ships entering it's port grew immensely.
Not all the ships could get alongside the quays to unload their cargo
and those that couldn't anchored in the river and had their cargo taken
off by barges called lighters (apparently, because they made the vessels
they were unloading, lighter). This system continued for years but it
was slow, inefficient and led to a large amount of the cargo going "missing".
Queen Elizabeth I passed a law which stated that seventeen legal quays
between London Bridge and the Tower could provide safe and secure places
to unload cargoes. When this was found to be insufficient the number
was increased to twenty in 1665. Other "sufferance wharves" were available
for lower duty goods.
By the end of the 18th century trade in London constituted two thirds
of the country's seabourne trade, wharves and quays were full to bursting
point with three times as many vessels moored alongside than there was
space for (545 berths, 1,775 vessels) and over 8000 vessels anchored
in the river for two miles above and four miles below London Bridge.
The turn around time for vessels was often as long as two months after
coming into port.
A parliamentary commission condemned the state of London's port and
it was decided to seek a solution by constructing enclosed docks on
the land to the east of London. In 1802 the West India Company opened
the very first dock on the Isle Of Dogs. It rapidly showed it's value
and others quickly followed. On the north shore were; the St. Katharine
Docks, the London Docks, the West India and Millwall Docks, East India
Dock and the Royal Group at Woolwich; Queen Victoria, Albert and the
George V. Which opened in 1921. There was also a dock at Limehouse for
dealing with cargoes entering and leaving London via the canals. In
particular, the Regent's Canal allowed wood to be taken from the docks
by barge, along the canal to the numerous woodyards that lined the canal
banks. On the south shore were the Surrey Commercial Docks.
Docks specialised in different cargoes, rum and hardwood at the West
India, wool, sugar and rubber at St. Katharine; spices, tea, coffee,
rice, tobacco, wine and brandy at the London Docks; soft wood at Surrey
and grains at Millwall.
The docks were successful for a time, however, they consistently failed
to adapt and adjust to new challenges. Problems frequently beset them.
one of the first was the "free water clause". This allowed lighters
free access to the docks to take cargoes from ships to be unloaded at
other quays, thus avoiding duty at the dock where the vessel was berthed.
This is an example of the political muscle exerted by the watermen and
lightermen at that time. A further problem for the docks was caused
by the improvement in land transport, particularly the railways. More
goods being carried on land meant less being carried on sea and therefore
less business for London's docks.
The docks also suffered with enormous labour problems and fierce competition
from other docks both at home and abroad. They were aided in 1909 by
the forming of the Port Of London Authority, a much needed single governing
body, however, the problems that finally closed London's docks were
the restrictive industrial practices which caused so much industrial
upheaval and the refusal to adopt modern containerisation. This meant
that goods which used to be handled in the capital were dealt with further
down river at Tilbury and at other docks around the coast where this
modern method of handling cargo had made the transportation of goods
by ship far more cost efficient.
Isle Of Dogs
The origin of the name of this huge river bend is unknown. It may be
named as a result of the royal kennels of Charles II which were once
said to be kept on the island.
The area was originally marsh ground and unsuitable for habitation but
drainage in the 13th century allowed a small amount of arable farming
to take place. This drainage later gave part of the area it's name,
Millwall was so named after the mills that used to stand along the dyke
walls, and were built to keep the area drained. The area was only sparsely
populated until the arrival, in 1802, of the West India Dock. A century
later the population had reached over 21,000.
The most famous ship ever built on the Thames was laid out at the John
Scott Russell Yard at Millwall. Isambard Kingdom Brunel's "Great Eastern"
was 629ft in length and was finally launched in 1859. The ship was huge
and she had to be built and launched sideways. Even then she became
stuck in the mud and they had to wait three months for the next sufficiently
high tide to float her. The "Great Eastern" laid the first ever transatlantic
In 1984, during clearance work, timbers which were part of the "Great
Eastern's" slipway were discovered and can still be seen by the housing
development at Burrell's Wharf.
West India Docks
These were the first of the enclosed docks to open and were an immediate
success, designed by William Jesse and Ralph Walker the docks stretched
across the top of the Isle of Dogs. There was an import dock with thirty
acres of water and an export dock of twenty four acres. The whole area
was a vast complex designed for the speedy and efficient loading and
unloading of commercial vessels and storage of the goods that they brought
Vessels entered the docks by the locks at Blackwall and lighters entered
at Limehouse. Within the docks were basins so that unloaded ships could
await the next high tide before locking out at Blackwall to proceed
to sea once more.
Around the walls of the import dock was a line of warehouses threequarters
of a mile long and five stories high to store the imported goods.
To the south of West India Docks was added the Millwall Dock in 1868.
The whole dock area consisted of around 200 acres with a water dock
of some 35 acres. The dock dealt in grain from the Baltic.
With the coming of the Port Of London Authority in 1909 the West India
and Millwall combined to make one huge dock.
The following publications have been used in compiling this guide book.
A Survey of London, by John Stow. / Dent Publications.
Americans in London, by Nicholas Barton. / Macdonald, Queen Anne Press.
Bluebird, by Martin Summers. / Collectors Books Ltd.
London River, by Gavin Weightman. / Guild Publishing.
London Under London, by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman. / Guild Publishing.
London's Lost Riverscape, by Chris Elmers and Alex Werner. / Viking.
London's River, by Michael Leapman. / Pavilion.
London's Secret History, by Peter Bushell. / Constable.
London's Waterway Guide, by Chris Cove Smith. / Imrie, Laurie, Norie
Mayhew's London Underworld, by Henry Mayhew. / Century.
Old London, by Edward Walford. / Alderman Press.
River Thames, / London Tourist Board and the Thames passenger Service.
Rogue's River, by Frank Martin. / Ian Henry Publications.
The London Encyclopaedia, by Christopher Hibbert and Ben Wienreb. /
Book Club Associates.
The Lost Rivers of London, by Nicholas Barton. / Historical Publications
The Shorter Pepys, by Robert Latham. / Guild Publishing.
The Tower Of London, by Derek Wilson. / Constable.
The Wonderful Story Of London, by Harold Wheeler. / Odhams Press.