Category Archives: River Thames
It’s clearly a Gravesend week. Two days ago we highlighted the coming auction of West Street Pier in the town. Some barge people have since suggested it would make a good base for Thames Sailing Barges – lot of money, lot of work needed, as ever with barges.
Now today there is an article in The Times about that whale which came for an autumn holiday in the Thames at Lower Hope Reach, and liked it so much it stayed around the area for several months, even being seen off Gravesend Promenade. Although nobody knows whether it is male or female, it was christened Benny by local people and seems to have contributed considerably to the town’s economy. Postcards, mugs, fridge magnets and cuddly toy whales appeared in the shops, and there was even “Bennie’s Ale” at one of the pubs.
When we went over on the ferry for the SSBR Committee meeting at the marvellous Three Daws last autumn we all had our eyes peeled but didn’t have the luck to see Benny.
The last sighting was January 6th and even that is just a maybe. Has Benny gone? Did it decide the Thames in December was not the place to be? Gravesend businesses hope not. They hope Benny may be in the outer estuary, or if it has gone that it will come back again. They say Benny had adapted well to life in the river and was happy.
For the sake of all those Benny fridge magnets, they hope to see the whale again.
Read the story here.
Many thanks to Gravesend resident and SSBR Vice Chairman, Roger Newlyn, for bringing to my attention an advertisement for the sale of West Street Pier.
The pier has been the Kent terminal of the Tilbury – Gravesend Ferry for as long as I can remember. In my young days the foot ferry was surpassed by the vehicle ferry used by Essex people on their way to the south coast holiday resorts. This involved many hours queued on the Tilbury side to drive down on to the pontoon and then on to the boat, or on the return journey lined up along West Street which seemed in those long lost days much narrower, much darker, and, dare I say, rather seedy. Somehow though it all added to the excitement of the holiday.
When the car ferry was no more – after the opening of the first Purfleet – Dartford tunnel – the passenger ferry had the use of the pier with just a narrow exit on to West Street. But it was shared with the Princess Pocahontas as the base for her pleasure trips up and down the river. Then the construction of the pontoon at the Town Pier meant the ferry transferred to that, and the West Street Pier stood empty and deteriorating.
The advertisement is from Network Auctions and is headlined “Rare River Thames pier to be sold at auction”. It appears the sale is on behalf of the receivers and is to take place in London on 28th February. Stuart Elliott, the auctioneer, says it is a rare and unusual opportunity for buyers, “How often can you purchase a pier on the Thames!” The guide price is £55,000 plus. The freehold pier is being sold with a separate adjacent vacant office building. According to the auctioneer the pier offers redevelopment opportunities ,subject to planning.
There is an historical plaque at the site recording it as one of the South East’s oldest transport routes. Originally there were two routes, the “Long Ferry” between Gravesend and London, and the “Cross Ferry” over to Essex.
In 1401 King Henry IV granted the Gravesend townspeople sole rights to operate the Long Ferry. At first sailing “Tilt” boats were used, with paddle steamers being introduced in 1815, but the growth of the railways meant the Long Ferry went into decline around the middle of the nineteenth century.
The Cross Ferry is even older, being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1083. Wherry rowing boats were used until they were replaced by a small steam tug in the 1840s, and by paddle steamers in 1856.
Roger feels West Street Pier is not the bargain that it seems as there have been expensive problems with the structure in the last few years.
Here’s the link to the advertisement.
Tomorrow sees the Doggett’s Coat & Badge Race rowed on the Thames in London. The Race starts at 11.30am at London Bridge and finishes at Cadogan Pier, Chelsea. The prize-giving will be at Fishmongers’ Hall at approximately 1.15pm. And this year, it’s an important one – the 300th Race.
Here’s a report on the 100th which took place in 1815.
And here’s a report in 1915, which says that as “one of the minor hardships of the war” the Race will not take place.
Good to see that even a US President, no doubt with a huge retinue of security, has to recognize that a Thames sailing barge is more important:-
“Ships always have right of way. That fact was made clear in 1997 when Bill Clinton’s presidential motorcade was split crossing Tower Bridge to allow the Thames sailing barge Gladys to pass as scheduled. ‘We tried to contact the American Embassy, but they wouldn’t answer the ‘phone,’ said a Tower Bridge spokesman.”
Secret chuckle on reading this, which I found in a list of facts and figures about Tower Bridge. Here’s the link to the story.
Today the German sail training vessel, Alexander von Humboldt II, came down river having spent the weekend in London. This magnificent ship used to have green sails but is now all in white. Here’s a picture of her coming down river, but who’s that following her? And here’s a picture of the Gravesend pilot boarding her.
Here’s a good April Fool’s Day post – A hippo swimming in the Thames.
Click here to read the story and see the video.
The Visit London tourism site has a very nice film about the river, fronted by Alex Hickman who is a Thames Waterman and Lighterman now working as a Pier Controller for London River Services, part of Transport for London.
No mention of barges in particular, but a man with a real love of the river, its history and working on it today.
My local newspaper, the Thurrock Gazette, has a weekly column called “Down Memory Lane”, which is written by my good friend Jonathan Catton, Heritage & Museum Officer of Thurrock Council, or, in my terminology, Curator of Thurrock Museum. Each week I clip out Jonathan’s piece and put it in a Box File, but often don’t get a chance to read it for some time.
I’ve just been catching up on them, and found one from February of this year about Thurrock’s cement industry, particularly Tunnel Portland Cement.
It includes a picture which Jonathan had taken from the front cover of one of the company’s souvenir catalogues from the 1930s. It shows the Tunnel Jetty on the Thames with several sailing barges, one of which is being loaded with barrels of cement.
Sorry the quality is not good as it is a scanned-in news cutting.
Photos of the paddle steamer Waverley, when she was doing trips on the Thames last year, have just been published on the vessel’s Facebook page. Amongst them is this terrific one showing Waverley and sb Cambria on either side of the new pontoon at Gravesend.
When Waverley came into the pontoon for the first time, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a brass band playing on the pier, I was on board Cambria with Dave Brooks and Rob Bassi. We had been expecting quite a few Waverley passengers to visit Cambria and were all ready to show them round. In the end only two were given permission to disembark from the paddle steamer and come on board, and they were only allowed five minutes. A high speed tour took place!
Still it was great to see these two ladies of the sea side by side, and a stirring sight when those huge paddles turned and Waverley continued up river.