Look like they’ve been here forever, don’t they? In fact the first thing I thought of when I saw the steps at Enderby Wharf on the west side of the Thames Path was the crazy coastal rock carvings by the Abbé Fouré on the northern French coast.
In fact they’re not that old and they’re not even stone but that doesn’t stop the Enderby Steps being one of my favorite secret things about Greenwich. And like so many secret things – and I sigh to say this – they are in danger.
It will be no surprise to regular Phantophiles that they were initiated by prolific local artist Carol Kenna, of the Greenwich Mural Workshop responsible for so much amazing public art around here.
The initiative to re-established Enderby Steps was supposed to be for the leadup to the Millennium, but time ran out so Carol, impressively un-putoffable, suggested it to be part of the Groundwork Thames Gateway project, which put the seating there and – somewhat pointlessly in the event – sugested improvements to Enderby House and a revitalisation of Enderby Wharf.
Oh, yes, there were big ideas. All manner of environmental improvements and art projects along the waterfront between Lovells Wharf and Bay Wharf. If you’re wondering what the large metal circle in the ground between the Dome and the aggregates site is, it’s the site of a proposed sculpture.
A steering group was formed – including unlikely bedfellows Alcatel, Amylum Refineries, Greenwich Council – and Greenwich Mural Workshop (mainly because the year before GMW had held a conference of their own, called When Land Meets Water, but also because I think that even that short while ago, there was a different attitude to the arts. Sadly money – or the lack of it – has eclipsed any idea of corporate involvement in making the envrionment beautiful. Just look at the fate of two of the delegates mentioned above…)
The steps were actually carved by sculptor Richard Lawrence. They were based on the original steps that formed part of a landing stage that ferried workers between Alcatel and the ships moored in the deep water that received the cables produced in the factory onland. There is still some of the winding gear on Enderby Pier that guided the cables onto the ships, where they were stored in giant conical piles on ship. If you’d like to know more, there’s a website about it all here.
Carol and Richard researched the industrial history side with the help of Mary Mills and the Alcatel archives (no one seems to know what happened to them when Alcatel was literally reduced to rubble).
I had thought the carvings on the steps were random abstract designs but they actually show the industrial history of the Peninsula from rush makers to high tech cable production.
They’re are made from a special hard wood that will stand decades of water washing over them and Alcatel undertook to keep them clean of algae before they sold the site. I certainly (somewhere) have a relatively recent photo of them clear of green goo – but ever since the company went, nature has moved in.
Of course, knowing Greenwich, nature is the least of the worries regarding history and art.
I’m not really sure how I missed this on the Cruise liner terminal planning permission that was granted on March 30th 2012 – but there you go. I guess I was looking at the buildings – and the way Enderby House would be treated within the landscape ( I still think it would make a great pub or tea rooms, though less charming in the middle of all that tedious glass and steel – when IS that fashion going to have run its course?) If memory serves I was also keen to look at what would happen with the Aluna project – more about that another day.
The artists impression doesn’t include the steps, which would be between the two piers (sorry about the horrid quality):
The permission reserves agreement for hard and soft landscaping under Condition 9 which has to be approved prior to development beginning. Carol’s spoken to the Greenwich Society and they have no minutes amongst planning applications that refer to the steps and also are not aware of Condition 9 being activated.
As far as I can see though, there’s no reason why the steps can’t be kept. If we were to get traditional ‘coast’ instead of corporate grass leading down to the river, which would be much more in keeping with the site and easier to upkeep, then the steps could be saved, along with the rocky beach, the wild flowers and, of course, the tidal aspect, which would make grass look a bit daft anyway.
Carol’s going to talk with a man who may be able to put this matter into the right hands (for all I know he might BE the right hands) but I wanted to mention it to you guys, as I think if she felt she wasn’t alone, that she had backup from local people, it would be easier to argue
her our case.
If they and all the piers were to be removed I think this would be a sad indictment of how little our history is appreciated or the worth of a mixed visual landscape along our waterfront. Greenwich is one of a few London boroughs which still possess some waterfront industry to our benefit both economically and historically.
I agree with every word.
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