Thames at Greenwich

Thames at Greenwich

Thames at Hadleigh

Thames at Hadleigh

Queensborough

Queensborough

Sheerness

Sheerness

Canvey

Canvey

Guest post by BK

Thames Boundary Stone

Where does the river end and the sea begin? Seasalter and Whitstable always seem to be more part of the Swale Estuary than the North Sea, unlike Herne Bay which I would say was definitely sea. On the other side, Leigh-On-Sea, despite its name, seems decidedly esturine. Fortunately, we do have an official definition for The Thames and that is The Yantlet Line.

The Crown held the rights to fish within the UK until 1350. Licensing and the charging of duties on these rights provided The Crown with a good source of revenue. Richard I had run up huge debts financing his crusades, and so in 1197 he had to sell fishing rights in The Thames to The City Of London to raise money for the Third Crusade, showing that even 800 years ago The City was the place with the real money. These rights ran from the then tidal limit at Staines in the West to the start of the North Sea in the East.

Thames Estuary LPA boundary

These boundaries were marked by stone columns, the first thought to have been erected around 1285, whose replacements still stand today. The eastern boundary is marked by columns at Upnor and Grain in the South and Southend to the North. The line between Grain and Southend is called the Yantlet Line and marks the official end of the Thames Estuary. It is still used today in official documents regarding the jurisdiction of bodies such as The Port Of London Authority.

The Yantlet Creek ran between the Thames and The Medway and was a busy shipping channel from Roman times for boats travelling between the two rivers. It ran right through the Hoo peninsula, and so created the Isle of Grain. The decline in river traffic has led to its becoming silted up and so The Isle of Grain isn’t really an island anymore.

Thames boundary stone

There are two stones at Upnor, an ancient one and its Victorian replacement. They are next to   The Arethusa Centre, a training and adventure centre for children. It is named after HMS Arethusa, the last British ship to go to battle under sail. Its figurehead is displayed outside, having recently been restored after being eaten by wasps.

The column in Southend is known as The Crow Stone and stands on the beach/mud at the bottom of  Chalkwell Avenue. It was erected in 1837 to replace an earlier stone that now stands in Priory Park. So officially, Leigh-On-Sea is actually Leigh-On-Thames but Westcliff-On_Sea is OK.

The Grain column stands on the East side of the mouth of the Yantlet Creek and so is inaccessible. The best way to get near to it is to walk from Allhallows.  Allhallows-On-Sea (yet another optimistic misnomer) is a park of fixed holiday homes, which seem to be in permanent residence, that is all that left of a grand plan to create a state-of-the-art holiday resort near to London in the 1930s.

I parked just outside and walked through the gatehouse without any problems from the security guard. I think that there may be a right of way. When you reach the ‘sea’, you then turn right and there is a very pleasant walk along the top of the flood defences with the river on one side and the marshes on the other until, after a couple of miles, you reach the creek. At this point you can see the column and a larger structure designed to mark the mouth of the creek for navigation, but you cannot get further without crossing the creek and there does not seem a way of doing this.  Intrepid souls with a good pair of wellington boots might try at low tide.

The land to the east of the creek was once part of the Grain Firing Point. This was an extension of the MOD’s artillery firing range at Shoeburyness intended to test long-range guns, such as those for battleships. The shells would be fired over the sea and land in the Maplin Sands. This activity wasn’t always popular in Essex. The Southend Standard reported in 1925:-

‘On the previous Tuesday evening The Borough was again subjected to heavy bombardment from the Isle Of Grain within the space of a few minutes an appalling vibration swept through the district.’

The site is now closed but access is still forbidden due to the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

Places are like people when they’re on their uppers it doesn’t half show. Nudged by the first snow flurry this I thought it would be a good time to visit the Winter Garden at Avery Hill.  After all this is what they were built for, a reminder of sunshine in the long winter months.

Avery Hill Park

Avery Hill Park

Last time I visited there was a vibrancy with lots of information about the refurbishment plans.  An enthusiastic gardener spoke to me about the stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application was being developed which involved comprehensive repairs and a new heating system to reinstate the main conservatory into a temperate house. The announcement by Greenwich University, just before Christmas, that they are putting the site up for sale has filled the place with gloom.  The application  to English Heritage was never submitted and in a stroke the figure of Mercury, that tops the  was replaced by the sword of Damlocles.

Walled Rose Garden

Walled Rose Garden

On this visit I was the lone visitor in the magnificent Victorian structure with one worker locked inside a booth. No lively conversation this time. Outside was no better, the light covering of snow could not disguise the drabness of the walled garden. It was flat with not even a hint of architectural planting to give winter interest.  Back in the early C20th the gardens were used to supply other parks and grow specialist planting. All that remains is the one walled garden and a car park now covers the former fruit garden.

Winter Garden

Winter Garden

The Mansion House site is surrounded by open parkland. Below the ancient Conduit and Pippenhall Meadows two springs feed the River Shuttle which is in a culvert.  In Victorian and Edwardian times rivers were diverted, often underground, which created a network of lost urban rivers. In recent years more rivers have been restored or ‘daylighted” as this helps to reduce flood risk and increases bio-diversity. The river emerges at the far end of the green space on the Alderwood Estate. Restoring Avery Hill Park to wetlands would certainly give the parkland more interest.

Winter Garden

What does the future hold? Well, firstly the covenant put in place by the London County Council, ensuring that the Winter Garden remains open to the public, cannot be revoked.  A challenge for any potential developer and the refurbishment costs are huge at an estimated £7.5million. The land is not designated for residential use, so it will be quite some time before luxury apartments appear.

The Thames at Greenhithe

The Thames at Greenhithe

Dickens visited Greenhithe when compiling his 1880 Dictionary of the Thames and had this to say:

“Except as a yachting station Greenhithe itself offers but little to notice.”

Just east of the Dartford Crossing it’s better known today for its proximity to Bluewater shopping centre and Ebbsfleet International station. In my view, there is now something distinctive about the place; for it’s one of the few low rise developments along the banks of the Thames.

High Street

High Street

Built around the remnants of the High Street, which has period properties dating back to 1768, the new development blends in well.

Ingress Abbey Estate

Ingress Abbey Estate

It’s good quality housing that’s been designed to complement the landscape and heritage of the area. You get a distinct sense of community. There are riverside playgrounds which reinforces that this is a sustainable community, where people live, use schools and other local services and pay taxes.   Prices are considerably lower than riverside properties further upstream.  It’s been awarded a gold standard by Cabe.

Ingress Abbey

Ingress Abbey

 

The estate takes its name from Ingress Abbey a large mansion built facing the river for a local alderman.  It was built in part by stones from the Old London Bridge.

Ingress Abbey

Ingress Abbey

A road sweeps down to the restored Ingress Abbey in the centre of the estate, surrounded by its grass amphitheatre.  A car-free avenue leads to the Thames.

Ingress Abbey Estate

There are two pubs on the High Street, the John Franklin and The Pier.  At low tide the rotting carcass of a boat can be seen close to the John Franklin, it looks as though its been there for many years. The landlord explained that a Dutch couple had some engine difficulties and left it there 30 years ago never to return. The London Port Authority assessed it as not a danger to shipping and so it has remained.

Abandoned boat Greenhithe

Abandoned boat Greenhithe

The riverside pathway takes you past the Pier Hotel which had a jetty erected around about 1880 which can still be seen and is now a resting place for basking sea gulls. There is also the marker for the berthing place of HMS Worcester which from1862 was the Thames Marine Officer Training School. In 1938 the college acquired the Cutty Sark and it remained here until 1954 when it moved to Greenwich.

Local estate agents boast of a 45 minute train journey to London Bridge.  Progress seems to have faltered, back in 1880 Dickens writes about the express train into Charing Cross taking 45 minutes.

 

Kidbrooke Farm 1930s

Kidbrooke Farm 1930s

It seems that Kidbrooke has been a building site for over sixty years. Following the Second World War the marshy farmland of Kidbrooke was the site of a massive house building programme. The first phase of which was aimed at the well off as a three bedroom semi cost £2,750. In the same period a five bedroom period property in Ulundi Road Blackheath cost £1650. There’s nothing so fickle as taste and the same properties today sell at £465,000 and £1.2 million respectively.  Social Housing was provided at The Ferrier Estate but this came later in the 1960s. It has since been demolished to make way for the Kidbrooke Village development with apartments starting at £300k, so not that affordable.

Today you can alight at Kidbrooke Station and enter the swish surroundings of Berkeley Homes Marketing Suite. Back in 1953 the Estate Agents was still found close to the station but a rather more modest affair.

Estate Agents Kidbrooke 1954

Estate Agents Kidbrooke 1954

In the midst of the 1950s estate the London County Council built the first purpose built comprehensive school which opened in 1954 some ten years before the national system. It was one of the few “experimental” comprehensive schools opened in largely Labour controlled authorities. By 1958 there were only 46 such schools nationally. The 50s/60s were the belle epoch of British social mobility and popular opinion was behind the comprehensive system. The grammar school system was seen as devisive and as they only educated 4% of the population did not provide enough places to meet the requirements of the expanding middle classes.  The comprehensive was expected to have great appeal and a new bus route, the number 70, from Victoria to Eltham,  operating four buses an hour, was introduced so that children outside the neighbourhood could enrol at the school.

Kidbrooke Comprehensive

Kidbrooke Comprehensive

Sixty years on and social mobility has seized up, there is a widening gap between the richest and poorest. In attempts to fix the system some look to change the structures of schools introducing unaccountable Academies.  The local Conservative candidate for the area wants to bring back grammar schools. It cannot be denied that in the post war period the grammar schools churned out thousands of  elevated working class kids but the economy had the salaried jobs for them. Today, we have record numbers in low paid jobs and the threat of 10 million jobs being  made redundant by digital technologies so focussing on the school system alone looks rather futile.

 

Dartford Waitrose closure

In July last year I wrote this post posing the question, “Is the decline terminal?”. Today, sadly we found out that it is.  After dithering for 11 years and demolishing a handsome parade of period shops Tesco announced that they are pulling out of their proposal to develop a new store and housing on the Lowfield site. Historic Dartford is left as a wasteland. Tesco also announced plans to close 43 unprofitable stores across the UK, although the locations of these have not yet been revealed.  We wait and see what is to happen upstream at Woolwich.

Dartford may well thrive again but a walk through the historic market town leaves the distinct impression that the decline is terminal. Arriving by train one of the first sights is the abandoned Waitrose supermarket, continue through the Orchard shopping centre where there appears to be more vacant than occupied shop units. It’s a ghost town with little footfall to boost sales for those shops still clinging on.

Orchard Shopping Mall Dartford

Lowfield Street is awaiting demolition. Notices on the hoardings all along the street proclaim to residents and visitors that “it’s been worth the wait” and “not long to wait”.

Lowfield Street Dartford

Well the townspeople of Dartford have been waiting eleven years for this planning scheme to come to fruition. A new Tesco is coming to town bringing jobs and affordable homes. It’s good to know that there will be new jobs for the many retail staff who have recently lost their jobs, but is this a net gain?

Lowfield Street Dartford

Most historic market towns celebrate their heritage and try to preserve their fine buildings. Now, not all market towns can be preserved in aspic like Stamford in Lincolnshire but most find a way of balancing new development with the old. The buddleia growing out of the decorative brickwork of the remaining heritage buildings doesn’t fill you with confidence about their preservation.

Lowfield Street Dartford

Can Tesco regenerate the town? At the turn of the millenium that may have looked like a possiblity but since then Tesco has been losing market share, austerity kicked in and people have changed their shopping habits. Architecturally it will do nothing to make the place worth visiting. Its neighbour upstream at Woolwich has been shortlisted for the carbuncle prize. The former chair of Planning at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Alex Grant, has stated that it’s a flawed project; a blight on the regeneration of the town and he regrets his role in its progeny. Oh dear it doesn’t bode well for Dartford.

Hermes

Hermes

During the long winter months you can really appreciate the Victorian concept of a winter garden. Avery Hill Park has the second largest winter garden in the UK after the temperate house at Kew. So quite an asset in this part of South East London and the prospect of funding from the English Heritage Fund to restore it to its full glory was welcomed by all sectors of the community. Now, all that’s changed as the University of Greenwich announced its plans to sell off the site and abandon its plans for the restoration of the historic Grade 11 listed winter garden.

Avery Hill Winter Garden

The three-domed winter garden was created by Colonel North who had made his fortune from the nitrate trade in Peru and Chile. As well as recreating a little bit of tropical South America in south east London he wanted his family to enjoy exercise in inclement weather. On top of one of the domes is a playful statue of Hermes and the original iron framework dates back to the 1890s. The reclining figure of Galatea, one of the goddess nymphs of the sea, is in an imposing position. Galatea can also mean “milky white” and the statue is certainly that. Galatea Reclining on a Dolphin was designed by the Italian sculptor Leopoldo Ansiglioni in 1882.

Galatea

Galatea

The building did suffer some wartime damage and there is a tall palm, still there, that had grown through the broken roof back in 1947. The University had already received some funding from The English Heritage Fund and some restoration had started. Information boards with details of the full scheme have been on display for over a year. Further funding of £2.3 million was needed to restore the winter garden to its full architectural grandeur and the bid for this was within days of submission. Now there is a suspicion and fears that the site could be sold to developers.

It’s not that easy to see how a developer could make the winter garden economically viable as it wouldn’t be that easy to convert to luxury flats although there is plenty of scope on the remaining site. The future of the winter garden remains uncertain and will cause jitters in this corner of the capital.

Hedley Vicars Butchers shop

Hedley Vicars Butchers shop

The news this week was gloomy: austerity at 1930s levels, food poverty and accusations that the working class could no longer cook.  A trip to Borough Market didn’t lift my spirits as I found out that a lamb’s kidney cost £6. When did this reversal of fortune occur; a staple of the working class now only found on the menus of top end restaurants and in the shopping bags of the well off.

1951 celebrations Powis St Woolwich

Culinary differences between the different social classes have existed for a long time.  During the 2nd World War the government equalized the food supply through subsidies on items consumed by the poor and the working class.  Cheap cuts of meat such as offal, breast of lamb, ox tail and cheek were available at the local butchers shop.

Earlier in the week I had come across this photograph of Hedley Vicars butchers on Powis Street in Woolwich. The year was 1951, Britain was beginning the recovery from war, some rationing had ended but it would continue for another three years on meat. Hedley Vicars were celebrating 100 years of service on the high street. In keeping with the optimism of postwar Britain the shop came up with a new slogan:

“In all ages Hedley Vicars are at your service”.

Shops such as a butcher, a greengrocer, a fishmonger and a bakery were standard on any high street and had been so for decades. No wonder Hedley Vicars thought they would continue to provide a service to the people of Woolwich for another century.

Early C20th Powis Street

Early C20th Powis Street

Powis St Woolwich

Then in the 1960s supermarkets appeared changing shopping habits. Mass food production techniques meant that the less well off no longer needed to depend on cheap cuts and they disappeared from the supermarket shelves.  There was a corresponding  decline of small independent shops.  These vintage photographs of Powis Street show a vibrant high street with an extensive range of shops. There is no longer a butchers shop on Powis Street although fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available at the daily market.

Market Hill 1925 Mr Thomas The Pawnbrokers

Market Hill 1925 Mr Thomas The Pawnbrokers

Now the supermarkets are in trouble undercut by the German no frills chains and changing shopping habits. As we brace ourselves for a few more years of austerity what changes will we see next in our high streets, our eating habits and how will our culinary skills develop?  Well who can say but  one thing I would be willing to bet on is that the increase in pawn shops will continue.

Stamford Lincolnshire

The curious visitor to Stamford may wonder how this town avoided the sprawl and squalor of the industrial period. Preserved in aspic it’s the perfect location for a Jane Austin drama.

View from The George

View from The George

Situated close to the Great North Road the town was a natural stopping point for coaches traveling between London and York. Today you can still see the great coaching inns like the George with its iconic sign which crosses the street and the Crown in Red Lion Square. Each have repurposed their old stable blocks to meet very different client groups. Football fans who like a fag can enjoy the large outdoor screen at The Crown whilst shoppers with an eye for luxury goods can visit the boutique shops at the back of The George.

The Welland centre of Stamford

The Welland centre of Stamford

 

The town dates back to the C5th, situated on a hill above meadows rising from the River Welland. The river remains an unspoilt focal point with dramatic views at dusk. The town’s development was restricted by the open field system.  What held development back more than anything was the Lammas Pasture rights – the right of the burgess to graze their cattle and sheep over the open fields after the  harvest had been taken in. The fields could be in private ownership but the burgess still had the right of Lammas over any man’s land. Towns in the midlands were particularly affected by the system.  By C19th the population and risen and the town needed to expand. It was a problem and one that the local aristocracy, down the road in Burghley House, wasn’t going to lend a hand in solving.

Stamford

The town returned two MPs and only householders had the franchise. The Cecils owned 200 houses in the town so had a huge influence which they weren’t going to relinquish by allowing open fields to be enclosed and possibly developed. Fearful of Chartists they also ensured that the town didn’t get caught up in industrialisation.  In 1846 there was a good chance that the London to York railway could pass through.

Stamford Lincolnshire

People of Stamford were anxious to get the trade because of the decline in the coaching trade. Lord Exeter (one of the Cecils) successfully prevented the railway coming and it went through Peterborough instead. Stamford’s  development was choked off and it fossilised into the stunning Georgian town we see today.  Good for today’s tourists but not for those living there at the time as from 1850 the population started to decline.

The Market

The Market

Today the town is still overshadowed by Burghley House and the public school situated in the heart of the town.  Market day on Friday is a lively affair with vendors chanting to sell their fresh produce. The townsfolks’ spiritual and social needs are well catered for as there are several churches and numerous public houses.  Sadly, not many of the pubs have survived as traditional boozers but have been modernised into restaurants or late night drinking holes with bouncers.

 

I know this has little to do with the Thames but it’s good for a visit.

Thames Barrier gates rising

Britain could be bracing itself for either one of the coldest or wettest winters in 100 years depending on which forecast you read. Since the 2007 prediction of a “barbecue summer”, which ended in a washout, the Met Office stopped publishing public seasonal forecasts. They may return now that the Met have purchased a super computer. Personally I’m hoping for the cold rather than the misery of floods.

Last 5th December when most of the world was mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela the Thames Barrier was coping with the largest sea surge since 1953. In that surge 1800 people in the Netherlands and 326 people in the UK were killed. Inevitably tragedies like this have prompted proposals for better river defences.

The Thames last flooded central London in 1928 when 14 people were killed some trapped in the basements which were used as habitable rooms. Tragically the Harding sisters lost their lives: Florence 18, Lillian 16, Rose 6 and Doris 2. This event set in motion plans for a flood barrier across the Thames. In January 1935 the Port of London Authority considered two schemes. The first was a dam at Woolwich which carried a £2m price tag or £3m if it also had a road spanning the river. The impact of this scheme would have been dramatic as it would cut off tides west of Woolwich creating a pool of still water. The second scheme was a dam across the river at London Bridge. Hard to imagine now but in the 1930s the area along the Thames and London Bridge was docks and industrial land.

The Queen officially opens The Thames Barrier May 1984

The Queen officially opens The Thames Barrier May 1984

After the 1953 floods the Government appointed a Committee chaired by Lord Waverley (John Anderson) better known for giving his name to the air raid shelter. The Greater London Council was formed in 1965 and they were responsible for the design and construction of the barrier. A huge civil engineering project for its time and beset with the difficulties of the 70s. The 1972 estimate of £49m rose to a whacking £450m by 1976 reasons cited for the increase (Financial Times 1976) were; rising oil prices, inflation and the effects of the three day week. Yes, the three day week when cities were plunged into darkness, schools and factories closed, people wore blankets and woolly hats and there were record sales of jigsaw puzzles.

Area of flooding if Thames Barrier not raised Dec 2013

Area of flooding if Thames Barrier not raised Dec 2013

The 70s may have set in motion events that led to the de-industrialisation of Britain and the privatisation of many public services yet the Thames Barrier is a powerful reminder of the way a large strategic public body can bring together a scheme of such magnitude that 30 years on it is still protecting London.

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