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On 30th January 1965 the Second Battalion of the Grenadier Guards placed the flag draped coffin on to the Havengore at Tower Pier. Royal navy pipers played a lament. As the Havengore set off westwards to the Festival Pier there was a nineteen gun salute and Rule Britania played as Churchill went on his last journey on the Thames. The little survey vessel of the Port of London Authority went upstream against the flood tide. Crowds of people lined both banks of the river and the bridges that the Havengore would pass.The BBC commentator described this area of the Thames as “the industrial sea port of London”. During the river procession the BBC coverage included, U.S. President and friend of Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower paying his tribute, saying:
“Upon the mighty Thames , a great avenue of history, move at this moment to their final resting place the mortal remains of Winston Churchill.”
One of the iconic images of this day was of the cranes which had been erect dipping in a salute as the cortege passed. Just four years later this extraordinary gesture could not have been made as by then all the cranes were gone. To mark the anniversary I traced the procession and reflected upon the changing face of the river some forty years on. The cranes of Hay’s Wharf on the south bank have now been replaced by County Hall and Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Wharf had extended from London Bridge to Tower Bridge and had traded from 1710-1969. Further downstream Butler’s Wharf is still there but is now home to several restaurants. The Tower of London remains a constant.
It was one of those cold days, on which only dog walkers venture out, when I visited Charlton House. Most of the grounds were still covered with snow and I was the lone figure in the park. However, when I went into the Mulberry Cafe inside the house I was shocked at the number of people. There were parents and their children who had visited the Toy Library, students waiting for a Japanese lesson to begin and students from the Guildhall School of Music who would be performing a lunch time recital. The place was busy and vibrant.
Charlton House was bought in 1925 by Greenwich Council and is now a library and community centre. It is regarded as one of the best preserved Jacobean houses in London. During the First World War it was used as a hospital. The Maryon Wilson family who had owned it left at this point. Part of the former estate now forms the Maryon Wilson Park that stretches down to the Thames. During the Second World War the north wing of the house was destroyed by a bomb but has since been restored. Just outside the grounds on the Charlton Road there is a spectacular view across the river and over to the City.
At one corner of the grounds there is a Garden House which is on English Heritage’s “At Risk Register.”
Built in the mid to late C17 it is attributed to Inigo Jones. It had previously been converted to a public toilet but now looks desperate for attention and a new purpose. Close by is a Mulberry Tree which is thought to be the first in England. It was introduced by James 1st to encourage the silk trade. The walled gardens, there are two, were redesigned in 2003-4. One is a dedicated Amnesty International Peace Garden a place for quiet contemplation and reflection.
I decided to extend my visit to Charlton House by going to the performance by the Junior Guildhall String Ensemble. This took place in the Old Library which is an oak paneled and galleried room. A perfect environment to listen to an accomplished and most enjoyable concert.
This is the first of a new series of images of the Thames that I’ve added to the blog.
Before 1833 the only secure way to set the accurate time was to bring your watch to Greenwich and set it. This was such an important function that one family, the Belvilles, set up a weekly service carrying Greenwich time to paying clients in London. Today lots of visitors come to Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian and the Harrison clocks as well as all the other wonderful sights. I’ve lived in Greenwich most of my adult life and never tire of it, however, you can take things and places for granted but not the Harrison clocks.
The clocks are in Flamsteed House and there is a charge of £7 to visit. The exhibition makes very good use of contemporaneous paintings and multi media to explain the problems in not having an accurate means of measuring latitude. In response to the competition of 1714 to solve the longitude problem John Harrison, a carpenter by trade, set about making his timepieces. Looking at the precision engineering of the clocks it is remarkable to learn that Harrison was a self taught clock maker. There is a portrait of Harrison dated 1766 holding the H4 clock. This along with the clocks themselves leaves you wondering about the determination, perseverance and ingenuity of this man.
Harrison first got involved in the latitude competition in 1726 and the H4 was completed in 1759. The H1 tool 5 years to complete but was not accurate enough. The H3 took 19 years and has over 700 precisely engineered parts. Over time the clocks fell into a state of disrepair. They were rediscovered after the First World War by a retired naval officer Rupert T Gould. Gould spent many years repairing and restoring the clocks. He too must have been a man of great determination and perseverance.
I suppose with the announcement that 2012 was the wettest year on record it was no surprise that the Thames Barrier’s flood defense systems should be activated for the first time in two years. The gates were due to be raised on New Year’s Day at 1 pm so off I went to see this. It was a bright but cold day and there was a small crowd waiting. Just as scheduled the sirens went off and the gates began to rise. It was interesting that they do not move simultaneously. The gates close by rotating them up from the river bed so that they stand up vertically against the current and block the river. When raised, the main gates stand as high as a five-storey building and each weighs 3,300 tons. One of the World’s biggest flood barriers it is a remarkable testimony to modern engineering.
The Barrier was constructed by the Greater London Council between 1974-82. It spans 520 metres across the River Thames and protects central London from flooding caused by tidal surges. It may also be closed under periods of high flow over Teddington Weir to reduce the risk of river flooding. There is a visitor centre on the south bank on the Thames Pathway close to Woolwich. In addition, there is a learning centre and a small cafe.
On the north bank there is the Thames Barrier Park which opened in 2000. A sunken channel runs through the centre of the park from north to south. The topiary of the yew hedges resemble waves and are a reminder of the dockland heritage. When I visited the Pavilion of Remembrance was cordoned off. It is in memory to the Newham’s citizens who have been victims of war. The small park is surrounded by housing and on the western side there is a distinctive white building which is designed as a reminder of a large ocean cruiser. However, the most dramatic feature of the park is the view of the river and the Thames Barrier.
There is no public access across the Thames Barrier. Access can be by way of the crossings at Woolwich (Free Ferry or foot tunnel) or to the west the Emirates Cable Car, Jubilee Line or Thames Clipper.