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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 else.

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 to charity.

A River Thames Guide - Woolwich to Battersea

section 1. Woolwich Ferry to Millwall Dock
section 2. Docklands to St Katherine's Dock
section 3.Tower Bridge to Queen Boudicca
section 4.Westminster Bridge to Battersea

Woololwich Ferry

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.

Woolwich Tunnel

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.

Woolwich Dockyard

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 town.'

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 dock.

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.

Bow Creek

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 visitor.

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.

Blackwall Tunnel

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.

Trinity Hospital

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 Palace.

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.

Greenwich Park

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 park.

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 Palace

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.

Queen's House

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 Webb.

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 exhibitions.

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 Charles Building.

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 at Trafalgar.

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".

Royal Observatory

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, permanent site.

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.

Greenwich Meridian

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.

Cutty Sark

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 Sark".


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 enemies.

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 Estate.

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.

Trinity House

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 1852.

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 telegraph cable.

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 to London.

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.

Millwall Dock

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.

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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 and Wilson.
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 Ltd.
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.


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