Archive for the ‘Thames traffic’ Category

Bugsby’s Here to Stay

Monday, June 16th, 2014

Graham has just forwarded me this news from the Port of London authority, which, if you recall, was considering changing Bugsby’s Reach to Waterman’s Reach in commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the 1514 Act of Parliament regulating watermen, wherrymen and bargemen.

There were a total of 47 responses to the consultation, breaking down as follows:

· 10 in favour
· 34 against
· 3 neutral

Those for the change cited the proposal as: ‘fitting commemoration of the river’s past, present and future working life.’

Those against the proposal felt that: ‘historic names should be left alone’; ‘Bugsby’s Reach is a local name reflected landward in Bugsby’s Way’; and ‘The lack of information about Bugsby’s background should not be a reason to remove his name.’

The PLA say:

Having considered the balance and nature of consultation responses, we have decided not to proceed with the proposal to rename Bugsby’s Reach.

Actually, I personally think that the Watermen should be commemorated – and I’d have been quite happy to see Greenwich Reach renamed – after all, it’s not like we’d forget our own name.

Maritime Greenwich

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Emma asks:

currently doing a design project at my university and want to know more about the maritime history of greenwich. love reading your blog posts so was wondering whether you could do an interesting one on the maritime aspect of greenwich? also interested if theres any old lighthouses around and how the sea man found their way before light houses?

The Phantom replies

Greenwich IS maritime history, really, and there’s far too much for a single blog post. It’s really a case of just getting out and doing a bit of reading, and a bit of looking. The Maritime Museum is a good place to start; their Caird Library will be invaluable, as will Greenwich Heritage Centre.

But hey, I’ll do a short potted history of Greenwich’s watery history (from memory, so do check, eh…)

Basically, Greenwich is important because of its place in the Thames – it’s nestled in a bend there, which gives shelter for shipping and relatively safe waters. It’s a little way outside London proper, which gives it a good strategic position – a defensive one at the peninsula and almost a ‘gateway’ a little further up.

The Romans came up there and there is some evidence of a temple in the park, which would have been about half way between the river and the old Watling Street.

The Vikings also came up the river and parked their longboats on the shallow beach at Greenwich. St Alfege was murdered here by the Danes in 1012, pretty much where the church is now.

Greenwich was generally a fishing village, and before the five foot walk was built it had a much longer foreshore.

Because royalty chose to build their palaces in Greenwich, the two main dockyards were either side, in Deptford and Woolwich, but there was much pagentry and pomp on the water at Greenwich. The river was used for the main transport as the roads were so bad, so kings, queens, gentry and the general populace all used the Thames – whether by their own private barges or using the services of lightermen.

Greenwich was big for two things – royalty and sailors – and when the royalty left, the sailors took over. Current sailors, using the town for carousery and old sailors, Greenwich Pensioners from Greenwich Hospital, using the town for – well, much the same, really.

Greenwich’s finest maritime moment was in 1806 when Admiral Lord Nelson’s body, which had lain in state after the Battle of Trafalgar, was taken up to St Pauls Cathedral along the river in a great ceremonial procession.

During the 19th Century the docks grew enormous. The river was being used for cargo, transport, military and less salubrious purposes and got massively busy but pretty disgusting. Two foot tunnels were built to allow workers to get to work in the docks, which kissed goodbye to the lightermen.

As the docks subsided in the late 20th Century the river became quiet – but it is currently the cleanest it’s been in centuries.

We’re currently home to the Cutty Sark of course, though we lost the Gipsy Moth IV because we couldn’t be bothered to look after her.

We’re looking at a new age of shipping though, with that giagantic new cruise liner terminal. It will be interesting to see.

Lighthouses. Frankly lighthouses have been with us since ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians so it’s been a long time since seamen have had to be without them, but generally in areas without them it’s always been down to the skill of the individual sea captain. It doesn’t always work, as the case of the Costa Concordia proves…

There’s just the one around these parts, at Trinity Buoy Wharf, across the river from the Dome. It’s a testing lighthouse – used to test out new lamps etc, so not really used ‘in anger.’ You can get in there on high days and holidays (the whole of Trinity Buoy Wharf is worth a visit) and inside there’s a strange sound installation called Long Player by Jem Finer, which will be tingin and bonging to itself for the next 1000 years. There are also two lightships at the wharf. If you look down from the cable car you should be able to see them.

Greenwich Reach in the 1960s

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Following on from the discussion about re-naming reaches, another one of those lovely moments when Gerald Dodd says ‘don’t think you’ve seen these yet…’

I’m guessing he was standing on Greenwich pier to take these – given he was a porter at Dreadnought Hospital that would make sense – lunchtime, Gerald? This one must be one of the tourist boats – a bit smaller than the ones we have now, but still the same principal. The Isle of Dogs is just a tiny bit different too…

Island Gardens is much the same, of course, though it could be changing soon if the developers have their way.The pier itself has only just changed, of course. For a working river the Thames looks very still, perhaps this was early morning?

And Wood Wharf. The power station, just in case you’re wondering, is not Greenwich Power Station but Deptford, we’re looking West here.

Strange to see these pictures. It was that long ago and yet it looks like another world…

What’s in a Name?

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

That which we call Bugsby’s Reach
By any other name would smell as slightly seaweedy when the tide goes out…

…but why would we bother? What real benefit is there in changing the name, however curious, to the somewhat prosaic Watermans Reach? To me it sounds like one of those fake ‘ancient’ names they give to new-build housing estates to try to give them some character.

But Bugsby’s already has character – and although I’m not going to man the barricades over the PLA’s alleged plan to change the stretch of water’s name to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Watermen, I confess that changing something old, mysterious and Greenwich to something that although alluding to something else old and mysterious is, frankly a bit bland.

No one’s imagination is going to be sparked by seeing that name on a map – we all know what a waterman is.

Nobody knows who Bugsby was. I like to think he (or even she, wouldn’t that be cool…) was a smuggler who brought good old fashioned contraband like French brandy, jewels and silks through the underground passages of Greenwich Peninsula to the Pilot Inn ready to stash in the rafters there.

Poor old Pilot. I have a horrid feeling those historic rafters aren’t going to exist much longer – they may even have already gone in what I suspect might not be a totally sympathetic bunch of building work going on there just now. I don’t know what they’re doing but my phantom gut is telling me big and inappropriate. Yick. There’s an interesting (and depressing) article here on why this ancient pub isn’t listed (the last paragraph gives yet another reason as to why Mary Mills rocks) and why Fullers essentially can do what they like to it.

They’d be fools, of course. People go to the Pilot for its historic nature and the whole Thames Pubness of it. Lose that and you have another average pub. Naturally it may turn out okay and they might be doing something that won’t make it hideous, but I’m definitely keeping a wary eye on it (no pic as I’m always on the bus when I go by, trying to crane my neck to see what’s going on – sorry…)

But I’ve gone back to bad habits and am digressing yet again. I was on the shadowy figure of Bugsby. When I suggested to Mary my fantasy about the Mysterious B as a smuggler she said

there is some story of a pirate hiding in the bushes but I went right though the (very difficult to read) Wallscot minutes and there was nothing – although they seem to be able to record every bramble bush on the peninsula from 1620 onwards.

If you run the name Bugsby through the web it is a commoner name in the West Indies and America than here. Remember that bit of the peninsula is opposite what was the East India Co. depot and there would have been lots of big ships anchored there – so its possible Bugsby was someone a bit exotic. The first mention of the name is – I think – 1715ish – before that it was Podds Elms or Cockshutt Reach.

So Bugsby’s isn’t the first name for this stretch of water.

Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve got anything against Watermen. Far from it. I love ‘em. These are the guys who wear brilliant hats, have a great (original) livery hall and bring you Doggetts Coat and Badge Wager every year. And I am only too happy to let them have a stretch of water all of their very own.

And since I don’t want to be a Phantom NIMBY my suggestion is the other side of the Peninsula. ‘Greenwich Reach’ is a ‘nothing name.’ We know who we are, we don’t need to be reminded. Greenwich Reach doesn’t spark any romantic fantasies – it’s merely geographical.

In the Phantom Book, the Watermen would be only too welcome to change Greenwich Reach to Watermans Reach – actually, I think that would be an excellent idea. Just leave poor Bugsby, whoever he/she was alone…

The Londoner’s River

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Lt. Comm. LM Bates,, Frederick Muller Ltd, 1949

A rather wonderful book I found in a secondhand bookshop in the West Country for a pound – it’s always worth repeating that some of the best London book bargains are found miles from the capital – there’s just not the competition for them and therefore the prices are much lower. In fact, if you mention it to the bookseller what you’re looking for they often say ‘I’ve got a load more in the warehouse at the back that I don’t display because no one buys them…’

But back to The Londoner’s River. I can find virtually no information about Leuitenant Commander LM Bates (I’m sure somebody will have the info – I love doing this blog…) save that he spent many years traversing the sixty-nine miles of the tidal part of the Thames, knew the river better than most, and observed at first hand the characters that lined its docks, ports and ships.

He wrote several books on the subject: the ones I’ve read appear to be collections of articles that first appeared in shipping journals. Some are more ‘Greenwich-y’ than others – understandable, really, there’s an awful lot of river to cover in shortish books but the anecdotes about London ‘characters’ and incidents are charming and the illustrations by ‘Stanley’ are both dramatic and from a world we just don’t recognise today, rendering them, IMHO, utterly wonderful.

Understandably, writing in the late 1940s and early 1950s, many of Bate’s tales are of the war – one book, Thames on Fire deals specifically with the war years (and I note is going from 1p on Amazon) but there are delicious little asides, told with a nice nudge-nudge, wink, wink feel and snippets that made me immediately start googling on tangents.

Take the Seven Seas, for example. Built in 1876, as the Emma Ernest, she was an unassuming wooden brig that spent her life trawling around the world with dull cargoes, being cut down and refitted every so often, usually so she could carry even less interesting goods.

Even during the first World War she only trudged coal to France, her most ‘interesting’ moment an unfortunate collision with a destroyer.  On a boring passage to Cornwall she got stranded, then rammed and ended up being towed home.

But like so many salty seadogs, Emma Ernest was to find a whole new lease of life as a land-lubber. She was moored at Charing Cross Pier, renamed the Seven Seas and became the plushly maritime headquarters for the social club of the British Sea Services.

Bate’s description of a guest night at the Seven Seas Club is delightful – even he reckons that it was ‘the kind of evening which Kipling would have loved to spend.’

…it’s haze of smoke, the yarns and chorus of shanties…watched over by the ship’s macaw, a bird whose plumage and repartee were equally brilliant.

The ship was full of nautical treasures, including a lifebelt, the only thing recovered of HMS Pincher, lost with all hands during WWI, a copy of The Times from Wednesday Nov 6t, 1805, reporting Collingwood’s dispatches from Trafalgar, a cannonball fired by Sir Francis Drake in 1586 and a ship’s lamp from the Arethusa, a training ship broken up on the Thames in 1935.

But the piece de resistance – and the reason I’m banging on about it today – a ship’s bell, inscribed Shakespeare- Liverpool. Apparently a club member, finding himself lying next to the ship Ferreira in a foriegn port was furious to see his dear old Cutty Sark reduced to flying the Portuguese flag. He stole onboard, and half-inched the ship’s bell in protest.

The Portuguese crew, in sort-of retaliation, pinched the bell from the poor ship Shakespeare, who happened to be lying the other side – and sailed with it for 19 years.

When the Cutty Sark was bought back by Captain Dowman in 1922, the original culprit returned her bell to her – and received in exchange the Shakespeare’s bell – not entirely sure what had happened to her – probably chime-less she got run into in fog or something. The bell was presented to the club.

Sadly the Seven Seas was badly damaged by bombs and was broken up. I have no idea what became of the Shakespeare’s Bell.

Not really sure why I went off on this one today – but you could do worse that seeking out LM Bate’s books of the Thames if you’re at all maritime-interested.

All I Need Is a Tall Ship…

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

…and for it not to turn around before I get to see it.

So today, I joined a whole bunch of excited people waiting for the Tall Ship Flotilla to come by. Some people had really gone for the big camera gear and the tripods and the flasks and turned up bloomin’ early (nobody really seemed sure when the vessels were arriving) but in the end the kit that came in most handy was a bike.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t take my bike out today – I’d planned a walk to reaquaint myself with Greenwich as she has never been before – but after the flotilla came round the top of the Peninsula, took one look at Greenwich and shot back again, I really wished that I’d done what Roger had done.

He hopped onto his bike and followed them back downstream to Woolwich, where he got these pics.

Not really sure why they didn’t make it all the way – I’m guessing the trip was taking too long.

Still, they are going to be plying their way up and down for a couple of weeks, taking well-heeled people on trips, so we might catch glimpses of them. Just not all together.

By the way – is anyone going on one of the Thames Tall Ship Cruises? I really like the idea of it but £59 just seems a bit steep, even if I was to use the code Greenwich2012 (which is in Greenwich Time) to get a free drink.

Free Speech?

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Folks – what do we make of this, then. For a moment I had to check the date, but given we’re way beyond April Fools’ day, I’ll take this on face value – for the moment. Here goes:

Laurence says:

The sensitive mariners aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Ocean, presently moored on the River Thames at Greenwich, raised a security alert with the River Police on Saturday (12 May 2012} at about 6pm after they spotted a small motor boat named Bin Laden I, occupied by a man and 3 small children, passing nearby.

My boat, a 4 metre dinghy, which has been registered with that name for past 2 years, is one of the least threatening craft on the river. Nonetheless, on passing near HMS Ocean, the largest ship in the Royal Navy, length 200m, 22,000 tonnes, equipped with 8 military helicopters and armed with torpedoes and guns, we evidently alarmed the Ocean’s 500 naval officers and crew and triggered a security alert.

Presumably it was all hands to deck and an hour later, on returning to land in Greenwich, Metropolitan river police apprehended me in a dramatic dusk landing raid on the local yacht club premises. Police demanded to know why the boat was named after the Saudi terrorist. They recommended in the strongest terms that it be renamed for the Olympics so as not to cause any further security incidents. Even if we are not mistaken for terrorists, I was told, the present name is evidently provocative and might be seen as a protest, so cannot be permitted on the river during the Olympics (inconceivable that Londoners could have anything to protest about).

I am considering calling it “Free Speech”, but quite apart from fact that it is believed to be bad luck to rename a boat, I fear that the phrase itself may have altogether passed out of use in the UK.

So – there you have it. Just out of interest, Laurence, why is your craft called Bin Laden I?


Friday, May 20th, 2011

Lots of people have been asking about Amandine, the whopping-big commercial ship moored at Greenwich Wednesday and Thursday, including Jeremy, who took this and Rick, who says

Everyone in the office here is wondering what’s going on with the massive cargo ship “Amandine” moored by the Cutty Sark, mainly why she’s here at all? As I type there seems to be a back and forth of horn blowing between the big ship and a tug that’s also spraying water everywhere! It’s all very strange.

I’ve not been able to find out much save that she was built for shipping firm Cobelfret. What’s really interesting is that a little more digging shows her as being a former Cobelfret ship – this site shows her owners (and names) since birth – but runs out at 2008 – what has happened to her since then? If you look at the pic on that site, it’s somewhat different – to the point where I actually wondered if it was the same ship. If she is the same, she’s been modified, which would explain her rather odd appearance. Does she still deal cargo, or is there some sort of passenger-thing going on now? I have absolutely no idea.

What the hell she was doing this far upriver is anyone’s guess.  I checked the PLA ships list this morning, and she’s already gone.

Rick also says

We were told by a bartender at The Yacht that it’s the biggest ship to come down the Thames in 50 years…any truth in this that you know of?

I have no idea – but I can’t help thinking that’s pretty unlikely – I mean we had that enormous cruise liner a few months ago and Illustrious isn’t small.  But then I’m just doing what I normally do – guessing. When I went down to have a look at her yesterday she didn’t seem much bigger than quite a few ships we’ve had here recently.

I guess if/when we get the cruise liner terminal we might start to see cargo ships more often, taking us right back in history. IMHO  it might be rather good to have a small port back in London again…

Update – thanks to the people who told me what was going on – she was in Greenwich to be named – thanks for the link guys…