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Registration at the Arch Dial

Registration at the Arch Dial

On reflection I wasn’t quite sure why I was so enthusiastic to go to the Woolwich Station Box Open Day. The day before the visit I received an email advising me on the importance of wearing sensible shoes and that I had to be physically able to climb up and down the equivalent of seven storeys. This made me really reflect on why I was doing it. However I came to the conclusion that an opportunity to go on site of major infra-structure project should not be missed. Coupled with this, there is speculation about the future funding of the station fit-out which captured my interest. However, I didn’t think there would be that many like minded souls so I was really surprised to see just how many people turned up for the tour.

Woolwich Station Box

Registration was in the Dial Arch Pub on the Royal Arsenal where we were put into groups of about 15. Once issued with a wrist band we were escorted over to “the box”. We descended the 18 metres down a temporary stair well to be greeted by our guides. There were two, both engineers, one from Berkeley Homes and the other from Crossrail. They explained that the one hour tour would be slightly shorter as they were trying to get more groups in to cope with the demand.

Woolwich Station Box
The new station box is cavernous and made to feel more so by the very loud opera music that was being played. They were preparing for a fun run later that evening so were trying out the sound system. I didn’t mind the Wagner, although they didn’t play the Ride of the Valkyries, but the Hebrew Slaves chorus did give me a strange mental image. The box is 256 metres long, 26 metres wide and 18 metres deep. There are marks on the sides where the two 1,000-tonne tunnel boring machines, Sophia and Mary will come through. They will be tunnelling from Abbey Wood through. Plumstead to Woolwich, underneath the River Thames, to North Woolwich.

Woolwich Station Box

Before the excavations an archaeological search had been done. An old river site and wooden piles were found. Confirming the historic importance of Woolwich. Three old cannons were recovered from the site and were on display.

Our guides were informative and so enthusiastic about the project. Several members of the group asked the difficult question about the funding for the station fit out. On this matter they were both well briefed and up beat. I hope that their confidence is well founded as it will certainly be a boost to the regeneration of this corner of London.

Woolwich Ferry
Naval shipbuilding started in Woolwich some 500 years ago and this walk will take you through the historic dockyards. From there it goes through industrial Charlton and on to re-developed North Greenwich. It takes about one and a half hours.

Clock House Woolwich Dockyard

From the Woolwich Ferry car park you follow the Thames Path/Capital Ring sign with an image of a barge. Walk west towards the Thames Barrier. As you walk through Mast Pond Wharf you will see the remains of two of the former dockyard slips. Further on you will pass the two water filled docks. There is a mosaic on the path done by the National Elfrida Rathbone Society 1984-86. At Gun Battery 1847 there are still some guns that over look the river. At this point you can turn left and explore the Woolwich Clock House 1783-4 which is now a community centre further along you will see the gates to the dockyard.

Gunnery Woolwich

Woolwich Dockyard was built in 1514 by Henry VIII for the construction of his ship ‘Harry Grace a Dieu’. Royal Navy vessels were built at the yard until its closure in 1869. Return to the Thames path and climb over the modern stile in the shape of a ship overlooking the Thames. At this point you need to follow the sign for the interim route which takes you through Woolwich Dockyard housing estate. This is the site of the former Woolwich steam factory. The introduction of steam ships in the Royal Navy resulted in the construction of two steam yards at Woolwich, the first opened in 1831 and the second in 1843. Parts of this have survived you will see the chimney and the old building facing Ruston Road is a partial remnant. As you approach the small round about take a look at the building now used by the Co-operative Funeralcare. This was the Woolwich Dockyard School for Apprentices.

Turn right on to the Woolwich Road. You will pass an imposing corner pub Clancy’s which was formerly the Lord Horwick Hotel and the adjacent Horwick Mansions 1898. Just past Windrush Primary School turn right into a small park area with signs to the Thames Barrier. 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.On the right hand side there is the former Siemens Factory 1863 which is now Second Floor Studios and Arts. The original factory was used to manufacture submarine cables.

Charlton Riverside

From the Thames Barrier it is 2 miles to the 02 Arena along the Thames Path. The path first takes you through the Charlton riverside which is still predominantly industrial Angerstein and Murphy’s Wharves are still used by aggregates factory. The Anchor and Hope is on the riverside with great views and still a traditional pub but perhaps for not much longer. There is a Chalrton Masterplan which will transform this area in the future. More riverside apartments are planned along this stretch of the river.

Close to Greenwich Ecology Park you will see a Polar Sundial. It was a gift from the Worshipful company of Tylers and Bricklayers to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Maritime Greenwich selection as a World Heritage Site. The sundial has lots of information about Maritime Greenwich. It also tells you how to read a polar sundial which I found far too complicated.

Walk through the Ecology Park to West Parkside and turn right. On the left hand side you will come to River Way and The Pilot Public House. There is a row of eight cottages built in 1801 and known as Ceylon Place. These late Georgian artisans’ houses were constructed for workers at adjacent tidal mill and chemical works. From here you can walk to the 02 Arena for public transport.

Olympia Slip Sheds

Olympia Slip Sheds

The last time I visited Deptford river front was on a walk from London Bridge to Greenwich along the Thames Path. The Deptford section had been distinctive because of the poor signage and state of the water front. It seemed a poor relation to Greenwich and Rotherhithe. Yet, Deptford is an important heritage site along the south bank of the River Thames. Originally known as The King’s Yard the site of the dockyard is now Convoy’s Wharf.

Deptford Strand

Prompted by the consultation on its future I ventured there again this time approaching from the DLR station at Deptford Bridge. On this route you pass the Dog and Bell pub which is listed by CAMRA as one of the top 25 pubs in London. I followed the signs to the Thames Pathway which takes you through Sayes Court Park.

Sayes Court was created by John Evelyn the 17th Century diarist and visited by Czar Peter the Great who came to study shipbuilding at the Deptford Dockyard. Much of the garden is buried beneath Convoy’s Wharf but what remains is a small municipal park. It was depressing to see that there was no board to inform the public of this once celebrated garden. Later I looked on Lewisham’s website only to find that it gave scant details of the park’s history.

Perimeter Fence Convoy's Wharf

Perimeter Fence Convoy’s Wharf

The Convoy’s Wharf site is cordoned off and prevents a clear route along the Thames Path. The Olympia Slip Shed is visible through the railings. These are listed and will remain in the scheme. Much of the remains of the dockyard are in this area. The only accessible part of the river front is Deptford strand. The information boards here are desperately in need of replacement and are difficult to read as time has worn the text. One of the canons is pointed enviously towards the Greenwich World Heritage site. With limited access to the historic parts of the area I did think that more could be done to inform and celebrate those areas that were open to the public.

Deptford Dockyard

There has been a long and contentious process in developing this area. The development of the site goes back to 2002 when News International applied to LB Lewisham for outline planning permission to erect residential units. In 2005 the site was acquired by Hutchinson Whampoa. In 2010 a further planning application was made. It was not well received by local people, historians and most other interested parties. In their response The Naval Dockyard Society stated:

“ NDS deplores the project’s high denisity of buildings which will constitute an unattractive intrusion into vistas along the River Thames, an historic route and the cause of the town’s existence, linking royal Deptford and Royal Greenwich. A high quality design should celebrate 500 years of maritime history.”

2013 is Deptford Dockyard’s 500th anniversary and consultation is just beginning on a revised masterplan. Let’s hope that these revisions do celebrate Deptford’s proud maritime past.

Consultation Details

Thursday 28th February 3pm-9pm Charlotte Turner School, Benbow St. Deptford SE8 3HD

Saturday 2nd March 10am-3pm The Red Room, The Albany, Douglas Way, London SE8 4AG

More information is available on local blogs

Cockle sheds Leigh on Sea
When I spotted the Pashley Princess I knew that Leigh on Sea was a town on the up. A quick walk around the town confirmed this. There is a thriving High Street with a good range of small independent shops. To get to Old Leigh on Sea you need to take the turning at the side of St Clement’s Church. The church with its distinctive Kent rag-stone and its prominent position will have been a welcomed sight for sailors in the past. There is a steep cobbled alley way that leads down to the old town and gives you some great views of the estuary.

The London to Tilbury railway was extended to Southend in 1856, this split the village in two. The railway forms a physical barrier between the old and new town. Close to the wooden bridge that will take you across the railway there are some very interesting buildings, former shops and pubs, that look ripe for development. The town’s proximity to Southend is evident as the imposing pier is clearly visible from the quayside. There is an information board in the Heritage Centre explaining that the more affluent people lived at the top of the hill and the struggling fishermen and their families lived around the harbour.

Osborne's Leigh on Sea
The trains enabled the fishermen to get their produce to Billingsgate Market quickly. Cockles have been the main shell fish caught in this part of the estuary. You can still see the cockle sheds and cockle boats. I had lunch at Osborne’s shellfish stall opposite the Crooked Billet Pub. Osborne’s have been at Old Leigh since 1880 and clearly are still doing a brisk trade as there was a steady stream of customers. Tables are available outside but you need to be prepared to share your lunch with fearless wagtails. In August there is a Fishing Festival and I did make a note to return then as I think that it will be an altogether different experience in the summer.

wagtail Leigh on Sea
Many of the old buildings have now been refurbished and used for other purposes. The Smithy is now the Leigh Heritage Centre. Their website provides a very good Heritage Trail which is about a 2 mile walk around the town. There are a couple of artist studios, craft shops, tea rooms and a restaurant. Oh and there are four pubs – The Crooked Billet, The Ship, The Smack and The Peter Boat. By train it is only 50 minutes from London so a great place for a day out.

View of the A13 from Rainham Marshes

Hadleigh Castle

I thought that Essex was completely flat and was surprised to learn that Hadleigh was the host borough for the Olympic Mountain Bike Event. Climbing the treacherous muddy path up to the keep of the castle I realised my assumptions were wrong. The views from the castle, which overlooks the Essex Marshes and the Thames, are heart-stirring. From this vantage point of you have 180 degree uninterrupted view and to the south you can see the North Downs.

View of Thames from Hadleigh Castle
The castle was built by Hubert de Burgh in 1215 and re-fortified by Edward III during the Hundred Years War. It is now in ruins. Maintained by English Heritage it is an open access site. Close to the castle is the Salvation Army’s Hadleigh Farm and Training Centre.

Hadleigh Castle

I had no idea that Essex had so many colonies and communes until I watched Jonathan Meades’ documentary The Joy of Essex. In 1890 William Booth published “In Darkest England and The Way Out” which set out his plans to help the poor and needy. It was in Hadleigh he set up a scheme to rescue people known as the “submerged tenth” or the 10% of people living in extreme poverty. They were provided work and shelter in the City Colony before being transferred to the Country Colony and then on to the Overseas Colony. About 7,000 people from London’s East End were transferred to the Hadleigh Country Colony before being sent to the colonies. Reading about the programme on the information boards left me feeling disturbed and wondering what had happened to all those young men. Did they really have a better life in Canada?

After the Second World War, and during the 1950s, the farm helped to train youth offenders. In 1990, the Hadleigh Training Centre was opened on the site of the farm. The centre works with local authorities to train people with special educational needs in subjects such as IT skills, carpentry, and life skills.

Hadleigh Farm

The proximity to London and the sea attracted many idealists to Essex wishing to make the world a better place by social engineering, philanthropy and experimental architecture. I’ve added some of these miniature empires on my list for other visits.

Oxleas Woods in the snow
Without the aid of snowshoes but with some sturdy waterproof boots and trousers I set off for a walk in Oxleas Woods. The snow was falling and there was about 6 cms on the ground. Oxleas Wood is an ancient deciduous forest and some parts date back over 8,000 years. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSI). It is situated in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. To live in London and to have access to this ancient wood is remarkable. Even on a snowy day there were people out enjoying it. I saw several dog-walkers and a very hardy runner in fluorescent shorts. He was very noticeable in the colourless woods.

Green Chain Walk Oxleas Woods
In the past the woods have been under threat when there were proposals to build a road leading to a Thames Gateway Bridge. After strong local opposition the plans were abandoned in 1993. In the recent River Crossings consultation which closed on 1st February 2013 there was no proposal to build a bridge and put the woods under threat again. Yet the Royal Borough of Greenwich launched the “Bridge the Gap” campaign. This called for a new bridge at Gallions Reach so re-opening the controversy about the woods. With no funding, no proposal and no support an ill conceived policy.

Oxleas Woods in the snow
The woods were acquired by the London County Council in 1930 to be used for public recreation. They were open to the public in 1934. There is a cafe at the top of the hill which, on a clear day, as great views. Not so on the day I visited. The Green Chain Walk goes through the woods. If you follow this path past the cafe it declines towards Falconwood. Here amongst the trees you will see lots of the green parakeets which have become such a familiar sight in south east London. They make an ear-piercing squark and are an invasive anomaly in the winter wonderland. Sadly, there is little evidence of any native birds. Is it time to have a cull? The park ranger service provides free walks in Oxleas Woods. Every Thursday and every second Sunday of the month at 10am. They meet by the cafe.

Las Vegas - Canvey Island

Las Vegas – Canvey Island

I had been inspired by Jonathan Meade’s documentary The Joy of Essex and as it was a dry bright day set off for Leigh on Sea. Leigh on Sea hadn’t featured on the film but its neighbour Hadleigh had so I planned to visit both. My approach to Essex was along the A13 and I soon found myself singing the old Billy Bragg song:

“If you ever have to go to Shoeburyness
Take the A road, the okay road that’s the best
Go motorin’ on the A13

If you’re looking for a thrill that’s new
Take in Fords, Dartford Tunnel and the river too
Go motorin’ on the A13.”

I fear that this distraction had drastic consequences. I found myself on the road to Canvey Island not Hadleigh. My companion thought we should plough on and reminded me of the Julien Temple film Oil City Confidential (2009) which celebrated cult 70s R & B band Dr Feelgood who were from Canvey. So potentially well worth a visit.
The sign post indicated the way to both the Sea Front and the Gas Storage Installation. My heart sank a little but we pressed on. One of the houses we passed had a full size flag pole with an enormous West Ham flag: a reminder of the east end heritage of the Islanders. On the way to the sea front we passed St Katherine’s Church which is now the Heritage Centre. It reminded me that it is the 60th anniversary of the 1953 floods which killed over 300 people of which 58 were from Canvey.

Concord Beech - Canvey Island

Concord Beech – Canvey Island

At last we arrived at the sea front and I was most indignant to find that I had to pay 50p parking fee for 30 minutes. I really did think that the local council should be offering incentives to tourists. There are some amusement arcades which always look so sad in the winter months. However, I found my spirits lifting when I climbed the sea defenses and had my first views of the estuary. You can’t fail to be affected by the remote and somber landscape.

Canvey Island
There were several people about but mostly dog walkers. I was struck that there was a lack of bins for dog waste which meant that you had to be careful where you tread. A warning notice did point out the impact of “wash” from passing ships so perhaps the waste is eventually taken out to sea. The Labworth Cafe which is on the promenade is a great 30s Grade 11 listed building. It was designed and built by Ove Arup, who was involved with the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House and the penguin pool at London Zoo. Would I go back? Probably not but I am pleased to have been.

Labworth Cafe

Labworth Cafe

62 Gun Salute
In all the years I have lived in London I have never been to see one of the gun salutes. Today (6 February 2013) is the 61st anniversary of The Queen’s Accession to the throne. Gun salutes are customarily fired as a sign of respect or welcome. Today there was to be 62 rounds, a basic 21 which is a royal salute, 20 because the Tower is a Royal Palace and 21 for the City of London. Apparently, no one can get more than the Queen and Prince Charles gets 61.

62 Gun Salute
62 Gun Salute
I checked on the internet and was advised to get there early, at least one hour before. I did think that the event would be quite an attraction for tourists and always one to follow instructions I gave myself lots of time. I arrived at about 12.20 pm to discover no more that half a dozen people. I soon got talking to Elliot, a third year Architecture student from Westminster University, and discovered that we were the two stalwarts in the crowd who had come specifically for it. Most of the other people had just stumbled across the event and decided to stay.

Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London

Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London

The police officer and Yeoman Warder on duty were remarkably friendly and informative. I discovered that the nickname Beefeater originated from the time when the Yeoman Warders were paid part of their salary in chunks of meet. There were three 25 pound guns, which the Yeoman Warder, informed me had been made down river at the Royal Arsenal. As 1pm approached more people assembled. We were warned to try to protect our ears as it was very loud. It was and I had nothing with me to protect my ears. Well this is one event I can now cross off my to do list.

View of the Thames from North Greenwich

View of the Thames from North Greenwich




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