Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Riparian, the London Stone and the Ferryman's Seat

As well as the London Stones (plural) there is also The London Stone (singular), currently kept in the Museum of London but usually at 111 Cannon Street.

No one really knows about what this stone is for and why it is so important, though there are many legends about its past. One story links it to Brutus of Troy and the prophecy that "so long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish", but this tall tale seems to be the product of an eccentric Welsh clergyman in the 19th century.

Excavations in the late 20th century found a Roman building, which was then speculated to be the Governor's Palace and this was a stone from it, but it should be emphasised that this too is one of many stories.

Today the London Stone is honoured as a 21st century relic should be: it has its own Twitter account:

To distinguish the London Stone (singular) from the London Stones (plural) Wikipedia adds the word "riparian" to the latter, which is a lovely word, new to me.

According to this word means "of, relating to, or situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water" and so is very appropriate for those stones.

Also by the bank of the Thames, literally in the part called Bankside in Southwark, is the Ferryman's Seat (below):

Apparently it was installed to allow weary ferrymen to have a rest while waiting for custom to transport between the north and south banks of the Thames.

Bankside must have been quite a hot spot for ferrymen, just yards from Shakespeare's Globe and across the river from St. Pauls and the City of London:

You can in theory sit on it, but unless you are particularly short it will feel more like being perched upon it.

Now of course we have fewer ferries, but then we have a lot more bridges. And to walk from the Ferryman's Seat to the London Stone you cross the Millennium Bridge, which has rather a good view:

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Thames Barrier: Protecting London

In early 1953 a storm out of the North Sea drove the sea up the Thames estuary towards the capital. A storm tide, low pressure and high tide, overwhelmed London's defences and water poured onto the streets.

It was a wake up call and the response was the magnificent Thames Barrier (above), formally opened by the Queen in May 1984. A series of radial gates can be rotated into position to halt the waters and protect the city's gleaming towers and vulnerable tube tunnels.

Once a month there is a test in which all gates are raised and once a year an open day (also part of Totally Thames) when you can talk to staff, so I went along.

When I arrived all but one of the gates were in the up position but as I watched the final one, D span, started to rotate:

Within a few minutes it joined the others to a full raised barrier, stretching the 520 metres from bank to bank:

Each of the four main gates are over 20 metres high and, with counterweights, weigh about 3,700 tonnes.

The visitors centre gave further information, such as a moving cut-away model that showed inner workings. It also reveals some hidden features of the barrier - such as how the gates can be rotated beyond 90 degrees to create an underspill that allows the water flow to remove silt and avoid its build-up.

Most of the structure is purely functional, to ensure that there is as near as possible 100% availability, with back-up power supplies and in-house repair workshops.

But the silver arched roofs on the piers are not just functional but also architecturally elegant. They are self-cleaning and are built in a similar way to cathedrals.

A remarkable structure, which alas due to global warming, is increasing being called upon to protect London.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Classic Boats at St. Katharine Dock - with character

There's something about classic boats that brings out oodles of character, which was on display all around St. Katharine Dock.

Dogs stole the show (above) and boats were dressed to send the quaintometer off the scale (below):
Some waited for the event to open by doing a crossword or two:
Other's made sure those ropes were coiled and chains neatly stored:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Totally Thames Installation: Future Dust

The reason I returned at night to St Katharine Dock was to see the amazing installation "Future Dust" (above) by Spanish artist Maria Arceo (below) and light artist Tim Scheffer, part of Totally Thames and the Thames Plastic project.
As well as being stunning it had a serious message, one that I feel pretty strongly about, namely the dangers to our environment that comes from plastics.

I've seen this in the Thames when out kayaking or doing one of the Thames 21 clean-ups, but its not just our river its a global problem with our seas polluted with this material that doesn't decay but ends up returning to us in the fish we eat.

Maria Arceo was artist in residence on the eXXpedition which sailed with a crew of 14 women across across the Atlantic, taking samples as they went. It was really good to have a chance to meet with her and hear her stories first hand.

The installation (by day, below) consists of cages containing plastic rubbish, all of which was collected by the banks of the Thames in London over a year or so. The cages are arranged in the shape of a footprint, as can be seen if you get a view from above:

There is simply so much of it, and it last so long its a really big problem we need to all address. Afterwards I tried like Frogma's Bonnie to go plastic free but in today's society it is almost impossible. It needs structural changes to make it possible.

I really hope this impressive and though-provoking installation helps change attitudes so we make those changes and protect our rivers, seas and wildlife from this scourge.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Classic Boats at St. Katharine Dock - at night

Not only did I go to St. Katharine Dock during the day to see the Classic Boats, but I returned in the evening camera in hand.

The reason for this will have to wait until the next post, but until then I can reveal something I learnt from this trip: classic boats look even better at night:

I didn't bring the tripod so had to do these shots either handheld or finding a convenient post to stick it on, but it seemed to work:

It was almost empty apart from a couple of security guards wandering around and felt rather magical.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Classic Boats at St Katharine Dock

Last weekend spent most of Saturday at the Classic Boats at St. Katharine Dock, and it was very interesting - so much so that was late for the tea party mentioned in the previous post and missed most of the Great River Race.

I didn't find out why it is St. Katharine Dock and not the more intuitive St. Katharine's Dock but I did have many interesting conversations.

One was with Billy from the Thames Police (or Billy the Bobby as I mentally nick-named him) with whom I exchanged stories about the river and its history, a subject we shared an interest in. I told him about the London Stones and he told me about the remit of the Thames Police (which I have added to the relevant post)

There were many types of craft here, sailing and power, Dunkirk little ships and working ships (including the 70ft Essex smack Pioneer), the fireboat Massey Shaw (which saw at a boat show), royal barges (Gloriana, obv.), the tug Portwey (which visited in Gravesend) and many others:
There was also an opportunity to go for a paddle amongst all these old boats (or go for a pint at the Dickens Inn):
Alas I had no time to do either.

Clearly lots and lots of work had gone into keeping these boats not just afloat but in good condition, and kudos to all those that give up their time for this good cause:
I turned up early before it was really open and had a good chat with Alasdair of Sumara of Weymouth (and London's top ships chandler, Arthur Beale).

Indeed I had many good chats with boat owners about the long work they do and voyages they've been on.

My favourite was the simply stunning classic yacht Croix Des Cardes (below, right):
Oh, to be sailing this yacht somewhere remote like Greenland or the islands of the Pacific!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Great River Race 2017

This weekend was super busy with Classic Boats at St. Katharine Dock, the amazing installation Future Dust and the closing of the Thames Barrier, all to come.

There was also a friend's baby's first birthday to fit in and it was on the way to that when looked out over the Thames to see the rowers heading upstream for the Great River Race:

But I was already late and had promised to bring with me a cake so only had time for a few snaps before heading off:

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Ferries of London: the secret Greenwich Ferry

I thought I'd completed my summer project of visiting all the London Ferries and all the London Stones when someone tipped me off about the secret Greenwich ferry.

This one connects North Greenwich, home of the O2 dome (above) with Trinity Buoy Wharf, which I've previously blogged about as being wonderfully full of character.

Luckily soon after this discovery I had a meeting near London Bridge that finished in the early afternoon so I headed on the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich to check it out.

And there it was, as rumoured. It goes from a pier used by Thames Clipper but its not identified on their route map:
It's run by Predator Charters Maritime Services and there's no mention of it on their web site, just a cryptic comment about vessel "Predator II under contract to Thames Clippers as crew transfer vessel".

And that's apparently why its running as a ferry but not publicised: for this vessel's primary purpose is to provide Thames Clipper staff with transport. On the north side of the Thames, at Trinity Wharf, there are offices (including the head office, Clipper House) support facilities and Thames Clipper boats are moored while the south side, called North Greenwhich, is where they dock to zip up and down river. So the staff need to be able to go between the two.

But members of the public can use it too if there is room. There is some information about this service if you hunt around, such as on the Trinity Buoy Wharf "Visit us" page that gives the following:

The service is £2 each way and operates Monday to Friday from 5am - 7pm (does not operate between 11am and 11.30am). Please call them upon arrival to either pier.

More hunting led to this "proposed timetable" but to be honest its not actually that helpful as its an ad-hoc service. It's better to ring the phone number they give or ask the Thames Clipper staff at the pier to do so (which is what I did).

Having paid the princely sum of £ 2, there was the familiar views of the O2 on the way across:

Off we went to Trinity Buoy Wharf:

Then I spent a happy half an hour or so exploring Trinity Buoy Wharf (again) which will post about next before heading back to central London, having one last look at the view across to the O2 and the Thames Clippers zipping back and forth:

But it left a nagging thought: maybe there are more secret ferries in London - but if they are secret how can I find out about them?

Also, there's ongoing discussions about introducing more ferries across the Thames in the future such as between:

  • North Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs
  • Royal Docks and Charlton Riverside

So you never know, there might be more Ferries of London posts in the future.

Until then:

  • All the London Ferries.... tick 
  • All the London Stones... tick.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

The London Stones: Bonus Stone: Medway and Thames Canal

I'd thought I knew about all the London Stones but when I visited Gravesend and saw the historic working boats I met some of the volunteers for the Thames and Medway Canal Association and they said they knew of yet another one.

The Thames and Medway Canal is also known as the Gravesend and Rochester Canal as it connects those two towns. It was built between 1801 and 1824 and the idea was to create a shortcut from the two rivers and avoid any threat from the French navy. Alas it wasn't long a canal as:

  • the wars with France ended so the military need went away
  • access to the canal was limited by the tides at each end
  • the introduction of railways took a lot of the traffic

So it fell into disuse and the tunnel was originally shared and then taken over by the railways in 1846. The part of the canal between Gravesend and Higham was used until the 1930s but it is now filled with weeds or built over. However according to the canal's association it too had a stone.

As it was not that far from Upnor and the London Stones, I decided to combine the two on a single journey. This time it was done by train and bike, it not being that convenient by bus, with about 13 - 14km by bike:

As with the Yantlet Creek stone this one was inaccessible, with a weed filled canal protecting it like a moat:

This doesn't count as one of the London Stones as it doesn't got back to the days of Richard I but rather the industrial revolution when tracks and canals were built across Britain. According to this web site the text on this stone reads:

This boundary stone marking the line of jurisdiction of the cities of Rochester and London on the Medway and Thames Canal was erected AD1820.

The English Heritage site reference can be found here.

There are many other markers over London and the surrounding countryside. For example at Teddington there is the obelisk that marks the upper reaches of the scope of the PLA, as blogged previously.

According to this web site there were lots of markers raised along side canals and railways to mark the remit of the City of London - maybe as many as 250. For example, this Londonist article describes 200 coal post markers alone around the City.

That's too many stones, markers and obelisks.

But project complete, all the London Ferries and all the London Stones.....tick!


Monday, September 04, 2017

The London Stones: Upnor

The Wikipedia page on the London Stones went on to mention two that are not on the Thames at all. For as well as buying rights to that river the City of London also seems to have acquired rights to the River Medway too.

For completeness I decided to add Upnor to the list and above you can see not one but two London Stones, the old and the new, conveniently co-located. The two English Heritage records can be found here and here.

The old one is better preserved than the others so its possible to clearly see the shield of the City of London plus the date 1204 on the front (below) and on the back (above) the words "God Preserve the City of London".

Upnor is very pretty, with a cobbled street and two old pubs:

This part of the Medway has strong maritime connections, with nearby Upnor Castle (which failed to fight off the famous Dutch raid in 1667) and across the river the Chatham Docks:

Just upriver from Upnor is Strood, one end of the Medway and Thames Canal, which was to be my final stone of this particular project - even though it wasn't a London Stone.

Friday, September 01, 2017

The London Stones: Yantlet Creek

Of all the London Stones by far the hardest to visit is the one off Yantlet Creek (above).

Even though not that far physically from London - no further than Southend-on-sea - it is not served well by transport links and has an edge-land feel to it. Yantlet Creek is on the Isle of Grain: flat marshlands where Dickens set the opening scenes of his Great Expectations, and the eerie atmosphere of that book has echoes today.

To get there required a series of trains followed by a bus to the Harry Potter sounding Allhallows. Here you get dropped off by the pub The British Pilot from whence its a short 1.4 km walk to the nearest accessible point:
There's no point trying to get to the other side of the creek as its private land plus there are additional dangers:
It wasn't possible to get right up to the stone but this English Heritage site gives a bit of background information, including:

The City's rights of control were originally purchased from Richard I in 1197 and concerned control of fisheries and tolls along the River Thames and part of the Medway. The legal position on the capital's ownership was never clear and the City's jurisdiction was frequently challenged. The locations of the London Stones were visited by the Lord Mayor of London and other officials on their periodic visits to assert the City's conservancy jurisdiction. These river trips included ceremonies undertaken at the stones, pomp and excitement with spectators rewarded with beer, wine and newly minted coins. All of these served to instill the position of such boundaries in the minds of those who needed to observe them. These visits became social events with dinners and balls held in either Rochester or Southend-on-Sea close to another London Stone called the Crow Stone at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. This, along with Yantlet Creek and Upnor, marked the south and eastern boundary of the City's control (Howe, G.W 1965, 282-287; Anon 1816, 3; Anon 1836, 3). 

City of London obelisks were erected at Upnor, Leigh and Yantlet Creek to reassert these rights following a government select committee held in 1836. This concluded that London should lose its jurisdiction over the Thames and Medway due to laxity in carrying out its duties (Weinreb & Hibbert 1995, p. 883). These obelisks may have been symbolic in adding legality and permanence to the City's claims of jurisdiction. Damage to the banks of the Medway and problems to navigation were highlighted to the Lord Mayor during his 1856 septennial visit (Anon, 1856, 11). The fall in revenue for maintenance may have been due to competition from the railways (Thacker, 1914,pp. 188-9). Yantlet was the final obelisk to be erected by the City of London the same year. 

The City lost control of these rivers to the Crown in 1857 under The Thames Conservancy Act. These stones have therefore become memorials to the points in the landscape where the boundaries of London's reach were along the Thames and Medway. They are memorials to points in the landscape where the excitement and ceremony of the Mayoral septennial customs was experienced.

This is another of the Victorian era stones and there isn't (as far as I know) anything from the time of Richard the 1st around. If you look at this old map of Yanlet Creek from 1822 there isn't any mention of a stone - and also it can be seen that it continues to the Medway so that the Isle of Grain truly was an island, unlike today. Also, no stones can be seen in this map from 1801 but the Yantlet or Lobster Island shown on both has been eroded away over the last 200 years.

Next to the London Stone is much larger structure, the marker to the entrance to the creek, with both visible on the charts (will post on that later):
Buses are infrequent in this part of Kent, so I had a long wait at the bus stop by the pub, and some of the time I spent in its garden having a cooling drink and re-reading the relevant chapters of Great Expectations.

That book was written in 1860 while the stone was placed in 1856 (just before City lost control of the rivers back to the Crown in 1857) so maybe Dickens did get to see it.

The view certainly felt unchanged since those days: