This New Year Ramble 2019 was chilly and curious, and –curiously enough– much enjoyed by all. These post festive walks often attract a goodly crowd, and 19 of us assembled bang on time at King George V station, one stop past London City Airport on the DLR. The station is named (of course) after the old dock; a curious starting point because it’s on the north side of the river when the walk was really along the south bank.
A sunless day with its own melancholy attraction: as the now neglected Victorian poet Robert Browning wrote: “A common greyness silvers everything”, though he was talking about 16th century Florence, not 21st century London. We emerged from the station into North Woolwich which (curiously–again) shares much of its name with the the settlement on the other side of the river. This arrangement dates back to the Norman Conquest.
North Woolwich had either been hit by the plague or a mass outbreak of Saturday morning indolence: quite deserted. Ramblers soon reached our first target, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, built in 1912, 10 years after the Greenwich Tunnel.
It is more modest on the outside, but clean and dry under the Thames after substantial refurbishment less than 10 years ago.
The planners of this itinerary had hoped we would be able to sail across the Thames on the Woolwich Ferry, but this was not to be.
The new £20 million ferryboats Dame Vera Lynn and Ben Woollacott are still undergoing seaworthiness trials before coming into service later this year. Not our pigeon!
The South Bank achieved, we were really under way, traveling mainly westwards to Greenwich. First past a very historic site, the old Royal Arsenal, here mapped about 1746. A keen-eyed reader of this site was diverted by the appearance on the map of Mount Whoredom. It was–apparently–a resort of the soldiers billeted at the Royal Artillery headquarters. Curiously enough, the appellation migrated across the Atlantic to high-minded Boston, where a map of 1777 shows a similarly named protuberance at Beacon Hill, real olde Boston. The American map was apparently made by Thomas Hyde Page, who had been a cadet at The Royal Artillery training school in Woolwich.
Traces of the old loading docks remain along the waterside.
As many as 80,000 people worked here making armaments in WW1; the site was eventually closed 25 years ago and is now largescale housing development.
This handsome clocktower survives, the clock striking 11 as we passed. The tower was originally built in 1805 as part of the gun carriage-making range of buildings. It collapsed in 2008 and has now been refurbished as a feature of the new development. We passed several of these old and new “features” on this walk. They give some identity to the relentless newness of the many apartment blocks that now stud what was once a heavily industrialised river bank. All part of the curiousness.
Across the river, in Silvertown, the distinctive home of Mr Cube, the Tate and Lyle factory in Silvertown. It’s a riverbank counterpart to Tate Modern and Tate Britain further up the Thames. On our side of the river in New Charlton, old warehouse buildings ripe for development:
..and a eyecatching decaying wreck:
On then to one of the greatest engineering feats, enabling millions of Londoners to sleep easy o’ nights:
The Thames Barrier is 35 years old. Like the London Eye, the Shard, and what used to be called the Post Office Tower, it is one of the shapes that shape London.
In the walkway beside the Barrier, a nice concrete depiction of the whole course of the Thames:
Just past the Barrier, we passed another piece of elegant engineer’s architecture, one of those wigwam stores for sand and salt that are a distinctive feature of American highways.
Further on, more curiosities, natural and man made:
The elegant sign of the Anchor and Hope in Charlton:
..and the eyecatching HQ of the Greenwich Yacht Club, a new building on old piles revealed at the ebb of the tide.
The Thames Path then moves on (and is disrupted by) what is claimed to be the New London, a succession of residential blocks aggressively marketed under the name Greenwich Peninsula.
For most of the Ramblers, it was new and undiscovered country, a march past of developments which have been going up over the past 20 years.
But where is the community: the shops, pub, schools, people? Tucked away on the interior, perhaps, but little sign of anything along the river apart from property development and elaborate cyclepath works-in-progress. A great curiosity, this Peninsula. Of course there are also “features”.
The Qantum Cloud by Anthony Gormley is now 20 years old; it’s actually taller than his Angel of the North. And there’s the curiously named Emirates Airline, Boris Johnson’s true memorial: a £60 million cable car from nowhere to nowhere.
But who could forget that other (Tony Blair) vanity project, the Millenneum Dome, now plonkingly rebranded as The O2 ? Well, in fact, the walkers could, because (another curiosity!) the Thames Path goes so close to the Dome, currently shielded in hoardings, that passersby are hardly aware of this monumental creation:
In fact, almost as striking is another piece of industrial architecture hard by the Dome, the gasholder that is the final remaining bit of the East Greenwich Gas Works, the last gasworks to be built in London, in 1886.
Let’s hope it is not to be filled in with chi chi flats, something which has of course happened to other similar great Victorian survivors. As we rounded the river bend, some superb grey panoramas, on both sides of the river:
In the middle of a building site near the Dome, a very curious upside-down electricity pylon. In fact it’s a sculpture by the prestidigitatious artist Alex Chenneck called A Bullet from a Shooting Star, put up as part of the 2015 London Design Festival, and still surviving despite the upheaval around it.
Then a curious contrast: a cosy little wharfside settlement, and then a very uncosy wharf:
..and not abstract art, just a big blue door:
Lunch pangs were beckoning, but before that, the official photographer awaited:
..and eventually—posed by the memorial to Anchor Iron Wharf— the New Year 2019 photograph was assembled:
After the picture–as has happened before on these urban outings– the party bifurcated. Half dived into a local restaurant on the wharf, and half pressed on to old Greenwich proper, and the traditional pub lunch. Those who lingered after lunch were rewarded with a Whistlerian –or Browningesque– ending to a curiously fascinating Ramble.
PICTURES by Annie and Peter WORDS by Peter
THE NEXT ORRA RAMBLE will be on Saturday 27th April 2019 to who knows where? Do come!