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Tag Archives: River Thames

  • River Thames Shipping Since 2000 by Malcolm Batten

    Cargo Shipping, Passenger Ships, Ferries, Heritage Shipping and More

    I grew up and still live in East London, only a few miles from where the Port of London Authority ‘Royal’ Docks used to be – the largest enclosed dock area in the world. My grandfather was a boilermaker in the ship repair yards – considered such an important skilled job that he was not called up during the First World War. Later he was chosen to demonstrate a pneumatic riveting machine to the King at the opening of the King George V dock in 1921. Although my father did not follow him in his career, he had an interest in ships and took several photographs around the docks, particularly towards their end. So it was perhaps inevitable that I would also be fascinated by the local shipping. As a boy I would often ride back and forth on the old Woolwich Ferries, which were coke-fired paddle steamers until replaced in 1963. Later when I first started working as a library assistant it was often on the mobile library that served North Woolwich, a location accessed via the bascule bridges that gave access to the docks. Therefore whenever a ship was coming in or out the bus would have a long wait, but the passengers would have a grandstand view.

    CMA CGM Sambhar (Monrovia) (2006, 51,870 tons). (River Thames Shipping Since 2000: Cargo Shipping, Amberley Publishing)

    Although I started taking photographs in 1969, I didn’t tend to take ships very often as my early cameras did not have a long focus lens. In fact it was not until around the end of the 1990s that I started photographing shipping regularly, by which time the ‘Royals’ and other London docks had long since closed. However there was still shipping to be seen on the Thames, albeit mostly downriver around Tilbury. The Port of London had concentrated development here when changes in cargo handling towards container and Roll-on, Roll-off ships made the old docks unsuited for such traffic.

    I have been following the events since then, and have endeavoured to record the changing scene in this pair of books. Change is continuous as shipping companies and services come and go. New expansion has come about with the Thames Gateway port at Thameshaven, capable of taking some of the largest container vessels now afloat. While this has led to a reduction in the container traffic handled at Tilbury, Tilbury is gaining an extension to its Ro-Ro and aggregates handling facilities with the construction of the new Tilbury 2 complex, on the site of the former power station. But elsewhere some things remain as they have seemingly always been. Bulk carriers bring sugar cane to the Tate & Lyle refinery at Silvertown as ships have done for over 140 years.

    The Marco Polo [Nassau] is seen on 4 August 2013. (River Thames Shipping Since 2000: Passenger Ships, Ferries, Heritage Shipping and More, Amberley Publishing)

    The Woolwich and Tilbury ferries still cross the Thames as they did in my grandfather’s time, but of course the vessels are several generations removed from those he would have known. Thames sailing barges can still be seen, though now sailed for pleasure rather than commercially. Each year (though unfortunately not in 2019) the paddle steamer Waverley has visited the Thames for a fortnight or so, to bring back the experience of the past when Londoners would flock to the paddlers for a day trip down to Southend or beyond.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

      

    Malcolm Batten's books River Thames Shipping Since 2000: Cargo Shipping and River Thames Shipping Since 2000: Passenger Ships, Ferries, Heritage Shipping and More are available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southwark and Blackfriars by Kristina Bedford

    It was a great pleasure to spend the summer heatwave of 2018 photographing the ‘highways and by-ways’ of Southwark and Blackfriars for Amberley’s Secret local history Series, and discovering gems which lie behind façades I had casually passed by in the past, such as the massive Universal Testing Machine constructed by David Kirkcaldy in The Grove, Southwark.

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works. (Secret Southwark and Blackfriars, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works relocated to 99 Southwark Street in 1874, southeast of Blackfriars Bridge, where the machine may be viewed today in what is now Kirkcaldy’s Testing Museum.

    This pioneering firm assessed component parts to be used in the construction of London Bridges such Battersea and Hammersmith, the old Wembley Stadium in 1923, and Skylon, a steel “Vertical Feature” built on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which appeared to float above the ground with no perceptible means of support – like the post-war economy, according to a popular joke – dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who deemed it too expensive to re-erect elsewhere. The company’s protocols combined microscopic analysis with robust physical stress-testing, stretching and twisting materials to breaking-point to measure the forces entailed.

    It also contributed to inquisitions into accidents, such as the Tay Bridge disaster of 28 December 1879, when the first rail bridge across the Firth of Tay between Wormit in Fife and the city of Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing from the South during a fierce windstorm, leaving no survivors. David Kirkaldy was himself born in Dundee in 1820, and prior to his migration to Southwark worked for Robert Napier and Sons shipbuilding works between 1843 and 1861.

    A short distance eastward along Southwark Street stand two further examples of mid-Victorian buildings of industry, the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a vibrant arts complex) and the elegantly neo-classical Hop Exchange, both featured in Secret Southwark and Blackfriars.

    Kristina Bedford's new book Secret Southwark and Blackfriars is available for purchase now.

  • River Thames: From Source to Sea by Steve Wallis

    642466 River Frome CVR.inddFor me, writing about rivers started off in 2013 when I was discussing possible books with my contact at Amberley. He mentioned the ‘From Source to Sea’ series on rivers. I live in Dorchester in Dorset so what came to my mind immediately was the river Frome which flows past the town. This Frome is one of several of that name in this country, and runs entirely within Dorset. It passes lots of historic locations and scenic countryside, so that suited both Amberley and myself, and off I went! There were several surprises on the way to finishing the volume – like trying to work out if the accepted source of the river was really the true one when there were at least two other candidates (I came to the conclusion that the Frome proper only started when all these streams had joined together), and also one or two interesting encounters with flooding!

    9781445648293A year or so later I was getting ‘itchy feet’ to try another river, and spoke again to Amberley. The publisher was now looking for a book on a larger river, and after a bit of thought we decided on the Bristol Avon. This was relatively easy to reach from Dorset, and though quite a long river, it flows within a surprisingly small area – the Bristol Avon is some 75 to 80 miles long, but I worked out that a South Gloucestershire village called Pucklechurch is no more than 15 miles from every point along its looping course. There was even more controversy over the source – two rivers called the Sherston Avon and the Tetbury Avon join to form the Bristol Avon, and each has more than one candidate for its own source. In the end I gave up and tried to describe them all! Thereafter the river runs through some lovely countryside, much of it in the Cotswolds, and some superb towns and villages such as Malmesbury and Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, then the cities of Bath and Bristol. Using the river as a reason to explore all of this was great fun, though I didn’t quite fulfil the requirement of the book’s title, as the Bristol Avon flows into the Severn Estuary, which is not quite the sea!

    the-river-thames-1 Whitish colouration marking the river's occasional course. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    By now I was getting somewhat addicted to following rivers around the place, and Amberley and I agreed that I should have a crack at the Thames. On the face of it this all seemed straightforward – I decided to concentrate on the generally accepted source of the river and not worry too much about an alternative (admittedly one with a good case) that starts up near Cheltenham, and there was no doubt where the river flowed to as it has a sizeable estuary that joins the North Sea. Admittedly there was a couple of hundred miles of river between these two locations, but I could worry about all that later.

    the-river-thames-2 Finally the flowing water appears. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    So in early March 2016 I set off to look at the accepted source up in the Cotswolds. I parked a mile or two away and set off to follow a footpath to the source. Getting closer I started feeling somewhat disconcerted that I could see no river, then came upon the stone set up at the source. Checking my map and reading the inscription on the stone left no doubt that I had found the correct spot, but there was still the not exactly minor issue that I could see no water. There was some softer ground here, though, and the grass looked whiter along the supposed course of the river, so I started following this. I did so for a mile before I found a flowing river, and it was only when I got home and did some reading that I found about the variable flow of water here.

    the-river-thames-6 The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. (River Thames, Amberley Publishing)

    Anyway, over the next six months I followed the river in a series of daytrips, and once again there were lots of fascinating villages, towns and cities, historic locations and lovely countryside. There were also many pleasant surprises – for instance, I had expected the section in the Cotswolds to be the most scenic, but while the villages there are very picturesque the landscape is relatively flat, it was the part that flows past the Chilterns that I found the most dramatic and attractive. Then there was the realisation that most bridges had a pub by them – all clearly well located to take advantage of thirsty travellers, although the rural crossing with a pub at either end seemed a little excessive! Then there were the discoveries that the river’s rural setting survives well into London, and that south Essex is much hillier than I remembered. On the negative side I got caught in the London rush hour on the Underground and still cannot understand how people are able to go through that every day!

    All in all I am extremely glad that I undertook all this exploration, and while of course I heartily recommend the book to you, I must also admit that there is much more than I was able to include, and so I recommend equally that you go and explore the river for yourself.

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    Steve Wallis' new book River Thames From Source to Sea is available for purchase now.

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