Saturday, August 12, 2017

Historic working ships at Gravesend

When the ferry arrived from Tilbury we were met by three historic working ships and three groups singing simultaneously.

The Swingtime Sweathearts (below, in the rain) were singing 40s songs while a group of salts were chorusing sea shanties and three pirate types were tackling Waltzing Matilda - all at the same time!

This is not normal for anywhere, let alone Gravesend, so it was clear that something was up. It was one of those British maritime history dos that seem to pop up most summers, this one called "Something for the Weekend... don't mind if we do!".

I suspect an end-of-the-pier double-entendre is in there somewhere.

Anyhow in terms of boats what there were two tugs and a naval victualling ship, two of which can be seen here:
Ok, maybe one and a half can be seen here.

The half is the tug Kent of Rochester (which I'm pretty sure I've been on before, probably at a boat show) and the other VIC56. The latter was built just after WW2 so never saw active service but was used by the naval off Scotland.

I spent longest on the steam tug Portwey which was lovely (check out the colourful funnel at the top and wider picture below) and had a very informative tour. According to the web site it is "the only twin screw, coal fired steam tug now active in the United Kingdom".

Big kudos to all of those that keep these three boats in such good conditions. On my tour was the chair of the society restoring the Medway Queen so there was lots of informed debate between him and the crew about the challenges they face.

It sometimes feels like a uphill (or should that be against tide) battle to save these historic boats from just rotting away. I've seen other tugs in Ramsgate harbour held up by sunken concrete and there was talk of boats along the Medway similarly suffering.

In a way its a problem of excess: there is so much British maritime history, a surfeit of boats to save, that inevitable that some will be lost.

Respect and thanks to those that gave up their spare time to look after three.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Ferries of London: Gravesend to Tilbury

The last ferry across the Thames before the North Sea is the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry.

That's according to Wikipedia: however Thurrock (home of Tilbury) calls it the Tilbury to Gravesend ferry. Meanwhile Kent (home of Gravesend) calls it the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry. Well, whatever you call it, this one was out of action for a short while due to damage to the town pier.

I'd been before when visiting Tilbury Fort: my trip across back then was on the Princess Pocahontas, now doing sightseeing trips on the Thames. Indeed not only the ferry used has changed and also the ferry company so I felt I ought to return to do this one again with its new boat (above).


According to this the "Tilbury to Gravesend ferry operates from Monday to Saturday" every hour or half an hour


I went one way, for which the adult price is £4 but the full range of prices can be found here.

The first time I took the train to Gravesend and then walked to the ferry and the second time the other way round, i.e. starting at Tilbury Town. On the north side of the river there is a free bus that goes from the station to the ferry but its only a short walk so I tend to do that:

There is talk that in the future the Thames Clipper will make its way all the way down to Gravesend - in September there'll be a two week trial -  and that would be great.

On the north side the ferry arrives at the Tilbury Passenger Terminal, which is a Grade II listed building and I visited for the Thames Estuary Festival.

The estuary felt a long way from the gentle green pathways of the first ferry at Weybridge and the Arcadian Thames. The wide river was capped by a large sky from which grey rain fell:

It was also very different socially and politically: from wealthy suburbs that voted Remain to struggling coastal communities that voted Leave.

The last ferry was done, but it wasn't the end of this little project. For not only was there more to see at Gravesend but also the Ferries of London project was bounded by the London Stones, and I'd yet to visit all of them.

Onward to the stones!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The Ferries of London: Woolwich Ferry

The Woolwich ferry is a different beast from all the others. Not just a skiff with the word "Ferry" on the side it is a proper ship which can take cars and lorries across the Thames. There has been a ferry at this spot for around 700 years, though the current service is more recent.

From the TFL web site:


The Woolwich Ferry links Woolwich and North Woolwich. It runs every 5-10 minutes throughout the day, from Monday to Friday and every 15 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. It carries pedestrians, cyclists, cars, vans and lorries.


Free to pedestrians thanks an Act of Parliament from 1889

Inside there's a faded sixties feel, now almost empty apart from a handful like me:

There was even a smoking room, now labelled as non-smoking:

It was threatened with closure due to the planned new river crossings but there was a successful petition to keep it and now two new boats are being built as the current ones are at the end of their life.
To get there I took the tube / DLR to Woolwich and then walked, slightly indirect route to go through the Woolwich Arsenal, about 1.4 km:
For the return journey I could have taken the short walk to King George V DLR station but instead decided to go back using wonderfully atmospheric Woolwich Foot Tunnel (below) with return journey 1.9 km:

The DLR extension to Woolwich is probably why both the tunnel and ferry were pretty empty of pedestrians.

Fun fact of the day: for a long time the north end of the ferry, North Woolwich, was actually part of Kent! This was visible in the map at the Abbey Mills Pumping Station as in this blog post, with extract below (check the broad green line):

There is also a Bazalgette link to the Woolwich Ferry, as he led the design and construction of the first ferries.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Ferries of London: Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe

This ferry is part of the Thames Clipper routes (see below) which calls it the Doubletree Docklands Ferry. The name comes from the hotel on the south side of the river and previously it was called the Hilton Ferry.

But Wikipedia calls it the Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe ferry and that won't change even if the hotel in question does another re-branding exercise so that's what I'll call it.


The full time table can be found online at their website here, but can be summarized as "Services run every 10 minutes during peak commuter hours and resumes a 20 minute frequency during the day, evening and weekends."


The ferry is in the Thames Clipper east zone (see below) and hence at time of writing a single would be £ 4.30 though with an Oyster or pay as you go card it would be £3.90.

For once no walking was required at the start as arrived by boat (using the Thames Clipper) but the return journey involved a walk of about 1.7 km to Rotherhithe tube:

This area is obviously a lot more built up than the rural feel of the first three ferries (near Weybridge, Hampton Court and Richmond) but there were rather nice parks to walk through, but these were actually filled in docks, from the great Surrey Commercial Docks.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Ferries of London: Tower Bridge Ferry

Ok this one might be a bit of stretch but it met the criteria so its going to count as one of the Ferries of London - at least for the period 2016 - 2017. Maybe it could be described as a temporary ferry.

Last year Tower Bridge was closed to traffic for a couple of months to work on the timber decking, lifting mechanism and water proofing its brick arches. Most of the time it was open for pedestrians, but for one day only it was closed and so they put on a replacement ferry - or rather two, one in the photo above and the MV Edwardian (below, from its deck).

So the essential information is:


4th of December 2016 (only)



It was clearly being used by pedestrians as a ferry - as in this very confused tourist:
However I suspect there were others like me doing it for the once only experience, such as this London blogger.

I started on the north bank and went south, connecting at Tower Hill tube and London Bridge stations, both very short walks away:

It is fair to say of all the ferries of London this had the best views:

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Ferries of London: Hammertons Ferry

The Hammertons Ferry is just upriver of Richmond.

Now Richmond is not just nice, but really nice, and also historic, home of Marble Hill House and Ham House - the latter the "unique in Europe as the most complete survival of 17th century fashion and power".

So you'd have thought that this would have been a really old ferry, but actually it only dates from 1909. There used to be a ferry at nearby Twickenham that was made famous by Dickens in Little Dorrit but alas that doesn't run any more.

A lot of the cross river traffic must have taken the nearby Richmond Bridge, which is one of the oldest in London (and Grade 1 listed), dating back to 1777:

The ferry details are:


Daily between February and October.
Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm. 
Weekends and Public Holidays 10.00 to18.30 (or dusk if earlier). 
Weekends only in December and January from 10am to dusk.
Please note there is no ferry service during November.


Adult £1.00, child 50p, adults’ bicycles 50p, children’s bicycles, dogs and pushchairs free.

I took the train to Richmond and, as before, walked to it along the slightly nicer south bank of the river and then back along the north. It was about 2.5 km there and another 2.5 km back:

The Hammertons Ferry used to be the the starting point of the Great River Race but now they race it in the other direction, ending up at Ham House. Apparently the ferry has right of way over the rowers - so they need to take care!

This part of the river is heavily used by all sorts of leisure craft and I saw these kayakers out as I walked by:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Ferries of London: Hampton Ferry

Next down river was the Hampton Ferry, which has been running since 1514, and its incorporation by statute makes the ferry one of the 10 oldest established companies in the UK.

I actually needed two goes to do this ferry as the web site was slightly inaccurate. It states that:


From April to October: weekends and Public Holidays from 10.00 to 18.00.
Between May and September: weekdays from 7.45 to 18.00. 
In April and October a limited service runs on weekdays from 7.45 to 9.00 and from 16.00 to18.00 (depending on demand).

Adults £1.00, child under 16 50p, bicycles 50p, buggies 50p, dogs and folding pushchairs free.

So I went in early April to find alas nothing (hence the first Boats! Boats! Boats! ... above Hampton Court Bridge). Apparently it actually opened after Easter, towards the end of the month (in 2017).

But it was a pleasant walk. On the successful trip I walked there via the south bank and back via the north (less nice, by a road), each time to the nearby Hampton Court railway station, about 4 km in total:

Not be be missed is the rather impressive Garrick Temple to Shakespeare on the north bank:

This was built by the 18th century actor-manager David Garrick in 1756 to celebrate the genius of William Shakespeare.

A nice destination for a walk: on a warm day you might indeed like (and deserve) an ice cream:

As you can see on the right there was also a bell, which is definitely the best way to call for a ferry.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Ferries of London: Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry

First up is the ferry from Shepperton to Weybridge. According to the web site (which also calls it the Weybridge to Shepperton ferry):

With the exception of a twenty year gap until 1986, there has been a ferry between Shepperton and Weybridge for around 500 years. It was also famously featured in H. G. Wells' novel War of the Worlds.

To get to it I took the train to Weybridge and then walked to the Thames: after crossing I then walked on to Shepperton for the train home, about 5.5 km in total:

Some of the route was along the Wey navigation which was really pretty.

To get the ferry you have to ring this bell, which I rather enjoyed, though I noticed that yoofs were much more vigorous in their ringing:
After doing this I saw someone pop out of a nearby building (which turned out to be the head offices of Nauticalia) and make his way down to the river the take the ferry across.

The price and frequency were on display on this sign:
After a bit of an explore felt it was time to head off to Shepperton, but couldn't help note what a pretty corner of London (if it really is, felt like a bit of a stretch) Weybridge is.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Ferries of London 2017

So how many ferries are there in London that cross the Thames?

As noted in the previous post, I'm working with this definition:

  • The ferry must have run for at least one day in the last year, taking members of the general public directly across the river Thames at some point between the London Stones.

The ones that I've identified which have run between July 2016 and June 2017 are as follows, starting at the west and heading downriver to the estuary:
  1. Shepperton to Weybridge
  2. Hampton Ferry
  3. Hammertons Ferry
  4. Tower Bridge Temporary Ferry
  5. Canary Wharf to Rotherhithe Ferry
  6. Woolwich Ferry
  7. Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry

Over the last year or so I've been visiting them, only using public transport to get there and back, taking the ferry just one way across the Thames.

The next set of posts will describe the visit and journey on each one.

Updated: the Tower Bridge ferry only ran for one day so it might be better to classify these as there being 6 London ferries and for the 2016-2017 period one additional temporary ferry.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quiz: How many ferries across the Thames are there in London?

So now we've defined how much of the Thames is in London its time for another quiz: how many ferries are there across the Thames in London?

But what do we mean by ferry? In this case I'm going with boats that take members of the general public as passengers between two points approximately on opposite sides of the river Thames (e.g. with line of sight between them).

So the Thames Clippers do not count if they go up and down the river e.g. from Embankment Pier down to Greenwich.

Then finally what time period are we talking about? In the past there were lots of ferries and this is meant to be about ferries in London now. But some ferries don't run all the time and at least one was recently suspended.

The final definition is then the time frame:
  • The ferry must have run for at least one day in the last year, taking members of the general public directly across the river Thames at some point between the London Stones.

So what do you think? How many have run over the last year?

And how many of them have you been on?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The London Stones and the Thames

So how much of the Thames is London's?

That of course raises an important question: what definition of London should be used? The Londonist has a fantastic video that discusses all sorts of alternatives, including post codes, the London boroughs, the M25, the 020 phone area code, the tube or maybe out to zone 6 of the tube and train network.

But these don't work for the Thames, as it doesn't have a phone or tube stations at either end of the London Thames.

One possible answer is the scope of the Port of London Authority (PLA), which according to Wikipedia is from the "obelisk just downstream of Teddington Lock (the upstream limit of the tidal river) to the end of the Kent/Essex strait of the North Sea (between Margate to the south and Gunfleet Lighthouse, near Frinton-on-Sea, to the north".

The trouble with that is the PLA, however important, is not London, and Margate most definitely is not part of London.

There is an older definition that works even in today's London, using the ancient London Stones (not to be confused with The London Stone). These were defined in times gone by as the limits of jurisdiction of the City of London. To quote Wikipedia:

In 1197 King Richard I, in need of money to finance his involvement in the Third Crusade, sold the rights over the lower reaches of the River Thames to the City of London. Marker stones were erected to indicate the limit of the City's rights

These are then:
These points are shown on the Google Earth map below and I think they work today too.

I'll come back to these London Stones in future blog posts, but until then its time for another quiz, in
the next post....

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Quiz: What is the London part of the Thames?

This is the Google Earth view of London, with the river Thames wiggling its way from left to right.

The Thames in total is 346 km in length, but how much of that is the London Thames?

Don't actually need a length - the key question is: where would London's part of the Thames start and end? How would you define it?

Answers in the comments please!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! ... on the Thames above Hampton Court Bridge

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and this chap is sailing in a Laser... no wonder he has a content smile on his face.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Greenway of East London

I walked to the Abbey Mills pumping station from West Ham tube station, taking a route along something called the Greenway. I thought it was a disused train track that had been converted in a similar way to the High Line in NY, but I was wrong.

It was actually part of Bazelgette's great work and one of the reasons for Abbey Mills.

Those great pumps that look like ammonites rise the waste up so it can fall under gravity to the outflow in Beckton. As the land is pretty flat it means that at this end the pipes must be several metres above ground level. So under this track are a number of huge pipes flowing down to the Thames.

While walking along the Greenway I had a flash back to a few years earlier, September 2012, when I'd walked that way without knowing what it was.

It had been near midnight just after the end of the final event of one of the greatest summers that London has known, the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics:

It makes me sad as I look at the chaos today to remember those wonderful days and weeks when the UK was united and positive.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

John Martin's pre-Bazalgette Designs

This is John Martin's 1838 drawing showing his design for a combined sewer and rain fall system contained within an embankment of the Thames.

It pre-dates Bazalgette's work by not just years but decades but while the concept is on the right lines it is lacking in engineering technique. For example the gradient along the bank of the Thames is too slack which would have caused this sewer canal to silt up badly.

But it is a lovely drawing and shows some of the ideas that were taken up by Bazalgette.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Book and Talk Review: The Frozen Frontier by Jane Maufe

The amazing Tanya Tagaq and Nanook of the North concert made me want to head north again. Alas no plans for such a trip at the moment but a good excuse to post about this book and talk.

Back in April there was a talk at Arthur Beale by Jane Maufe about how she and David Scott Cowper went through the North West passage not just once but twice in Polar Bound (above).

It was a fascinating talk and I should have blogged about it at the time but got distracted. However that gave me the opportunity to read the book, The Frozen Frontier, and then do a review of both together.

One of the high spots was Jane Maufe herself. You have to have an understanding of British class symbolism, but it was important for her to wear a pearl necklace even when surrounded ice and she had that clipped English my grandmother spoke in. She was also the four times great niece of Sir John Franklin so had the right pedigree.

She joined David Scott Cowper who is someone I'd been aware of without fully acknowledging his achievements. He took a backseat during talk and let her take the attention, which apparently is in character for both. At the back of the book was his list of achievements and I was pretty blown away - you can read some of them here. I looked for his personal web site and couldn't find one, which again seems in character. One of those quiet chaps that just goes off and does stuff without fuss.

For those with an interest in relationships, my advice is read the book as it was sweetly told there. For those with an interest in Arctic sailing read on here.

The boat was staggering well constructed, built around a Gardner engine, pretty indestructible and prepared to over-winter with plenty of stores (I mentally compared this to Jimmy Cornell's approach).

Their first traverse of the NW passage was in 2012 in which they took the most northerly route, through the McClure Strait. It was a race to be the first private vessel to get through, with strong competition from Belzebub II, a Hallberg-Rassy boat from Sweden. But Polar Bound got through first, leaving Belzebub II with the consolation prize to be the first sailing yacht. Then on through the Bering Strait to leave the boat over winter in the Alaskan Inside Passage. In 2013 they were back, taking a more southerly route, aiming for the Hecla/Fury straits.

There and back they'd encounter the usual high Arctic experiences: whales, seals, polar bears, Inuit, ice bergs, storms and fog. They also met up with Bob Shepton, who'd I met at at boat show a few years ago.

A remarkable story from two equally remarkable people.