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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.

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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.

 

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