Thursday, October 31, 2013

Updated: Whaling at Howland / Greenland Dock 1763-1806

Greenland Dock, formerly the Howland Great Wet Dock, was used as a base for one of London's whaling fleets during the 18th and early 19th Centuries.  The whaling industry, although frequently attacked today, was an important contributor to British life, providing products for lighting, soap and lubrication oils amongst many other things.  

I have now expanded and updated the post I originally published about whaling at Greenland Dock, for anyone who is interested:

Greenland Fishing: English Whalers in the Ice
Charles Brooking 1750
National Maritime Museum

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Update re The Clipper pub

There has been a lot of interest in the future of The Clipper, on Rotherhithe Street.  A 1930s pub located opposite the Hilton Hotel, it was sold recently to developers by the brewery, Enterprise Inns.   Thanks to @brob11 (Twitter) for the information that the Propel Newsletter has an update on the plans for the building.  The website describes itself as "a daily free-to-air newsletter for pubs, restaurants and food service operators."

Here's the relevant excerpt from today's newsletter.

Developer buys Rotherhithe pub for just under £1m: The Clipper pub in Rotherhithe, South London less than 100 metres from the Thames has been bought buy a developer for just under £1m to turn into upmarket apartments. Panayiotis Themistocli of the agent AG and G said: “There was a lot of interest, with 14 offers – it lies opposite the Hilton Rotherhithe and has good transport links, including the Thames Clipper river boat. The Clipper was always going to appeal to developers.”

Julie, who managed The Clipper on behalf of the landlord Joe Springate, also landlord of the Moby Dick in Rotherhithe, is now working at the Moby Dick (and hosted an excellent Hallowe'en party there last weekend). I have been checking for a planning application for the site, but have not seen one yet.  I assume that the developers are currently pulling together the documentation to describe and support their plans for the site.

The Hilton Hotel opposite The Clipper has also been put up for sale, the sales brochure highlighting it's benefits for conversion into residential use, but although there are rumours that it is about to be sold to another hotel chain, nothing has been published and therefore remain unconfirmed.

Finally, rumours that the Scotch Derrick and basketball pitch site next to the Custom House block on Odessa Street are about to be replaced by a new housing project are similarly unconfirmed but seem plausible.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Visitor Ships 2: A snapshot of ships present in Greenland Dock in the late 1950s

Footage of the London docks filmed by Lewis Coles in the late 1950s has been incorporated into a DVD called London's Lost Docks (about which I posted a short review). Coles worked for Kodak, and was a very skilled camera man. His film included a short piece that he shot in the Surrey Commercial Docks.  Most of the ship names were difficult to make out, but the footage that he shot in Greenland Dock was clear enough to make out the name of a variety of large international commercial ships and smaller local working vessels.  I thought that it would be interesting to find out a little bit more about the ships that were filmed that day to provide something of a snapshot of dockland activity in the late 50s, around a decade before the docks closed for good.

None of these ships were glamorous.  All were workhorses.  But they all make up part of the story of international maritime commerce in the 1950s, just as the Port of London was coming to a close, and each has a very particular dignity of its own. 

California Star (2)
Sourced from the Blue Star Line website
M.V. California Star

California Star was a steam ship built in October 1945 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast as a refrigerated cargo liner for the British Ministry of War, towards the end of the Second World War. She was launched with the name Empire Clarendon.  She was 457ft long, 30ft deep with a 63ft beam, two masts, a single screw and a GRT of 8577. She was powered by two 8-cylinder S.C.D.A. Burmeister & Wain oil engines and had accommodation for 35 passengers. She was operated for the Ministry of War by P and O. Steam Navigation Co. Ltd.  In November 1946 she was purchased by  Frederick Leyland and Co. Ltd. for use by the Blue Star Line.   In 1947 she was renamed Tuscan Star and in 1948  Timaru Star, when her passenger carrying capacity was reduced to 12.  She was sold again in 1949 to Lamport and Holt Line Ltd., Liverpool. When she started serving on the North American Pacific coast route in 1958 she was renamed California Star (2) and in 1959 she was purchased by the Blue Star Line.  In 1967 she was transferred to the New Zealand service as a fish factory ship, but in 1969 she was sold to the Tsuan Yau Steel & Iron Works Co. Ltd., for scrap.  There are a number of photographs of her on the Blue Star line website.

M.V. Baltic Express

Baltic Express was owned by the United Baltic Corp. at the time she was filmed by Coles.  United Baltic was founded in 1919 by a partnership of Andrew Weir and co and the Danish East Asiatic Company to operate mainly between London and the Baltic, carrying both passengers and cargo.  Service was suspended during the Second World War, and afterwards the political situation meant that only services to Finland and Poland were resumed.  The last of her passenger ships was sold in 1947 and her remaining cargo ships provided only very limited passenger accommodation.  In 1982 Andrew Weir and Co. bought out the East Asiatic Company to become the sole owners. 

Baltic Express was built by Ottensener Eisenwerk of Hamburg in 1957.  Her usual run was between London and Helksinki, and her main cargo was timber, which accounts for her presence at the Surrey Commercial Docks, where timber handling was the main purpose of many of the wharves.  Her sister ship Baltic Importer was based at the Surrey Commercial Docks.  It is more than likely that both ships were importing timber into the docks. In 1972 she was sold to Marastro Armadora S.A. and was renamed Moska.   In 1980 she was renamed  Seawind.  In 1984 she was broken up in Bombay.

There's a sad story about her on the Ships Nostalgia site, written by one of the crew, Alec, who served on her, which highlights some of the risks associated with the life: "They were all good jobs, except for the "Express". We lived aft (AB's) and not very good accommodation. Food was good and we had a good deck crowd, Bosun, Chippy etc.. and a good run. I loved all the ports in Finland even though we were there in the winter (not very nice if you were on deck). The sad part of my time on there was when we lost the Mate and Chippy. They were washed off the foc'sle head down to the forepart of the bridge and died of their injuries. We were on the way from Finland to Methil and this incident happened halfway across the North Sea.  Yankee helicopters came out to us but it was too late for the mate who died in our arms(we were hanging on to them to keep them comfortable as the ship was rolling like a bastard, we had them in the accommodation by this time) The chippy was taken off in the helicopter but died on the way to Aberdeen hospital . . . . After this incident I couldn't sail in her again even though I did do one more trip, no fault of the ship, but there was something about her that I couldn't handle. I paid off in Millwall Dock, London and a week later joined the "Blenheim" (Fred Olsen line) in the same dock just before Christmas."

Photograph of Pallas taken from the
London's Lost Docks DVD
M.V. Pallas

Pallas was owned by the Finland Steamship Company.  The Finland Steamship Company was founded by Captain Lars Krogius in 1883, its main cargo being butter before the Great War.  In 1976 it changed its named to Effoa.  Effoa only ceased trading in 1990, but its passenger and cargo branches were subsumed into other companies.

Pallas was built in 1953 (2220 GRT).  She was lengthened to 18.24m in 1974 by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft A.G.  In 1986 she was sold to Greece and renamed Annita.

Sadly, I was unable to find out any further details about her.  There were several ships named Pallas, and distinguishing one from another was impossible using the resources that I have to hand.

Gallion's Reach.  Sourced from the
Leith Shipyards website
Gallions Reach

Gallion's Reach was built in 1936 at Leith Shipyards in Scotland.  She started out life as a steam hopper but was converted first to a salvage vessel and then, after the Second World War, to a steam-powered grab dredger for use on the Thames, operated by the Tilbury Contracting and Dredging Company.  She was 178ft long with a 34ft beam (796 GRT).

A detailed history is available on the Leith Shipyards website but here are some of the key landmarks in her history.   Built on the eve of war, she was used during the Second World War as a salvage vessel and was one of the ships that went to Dunkirk (the above site has a marvellous photograph of the letter of thanks sent to the crew of Gallion's Reach for her part in Dunkirk).   After the war she was laid up in Norway Dock before being sent to Hull for conversion to a dredger with three cranes, whereupon she returned to the Surrey Commercial Docks, whens he was owned by the Port of London Authority.  There seems to be some doubt about her ultimate fate.  

Sun XV.
Source: The Liquid Highway
Sun tugs

The Sun tugs, with their distinctive red, white and black funnels, were ubiquitous in the Coles film, as well as in other footage on the London's Lost Docks DVD.   Tugs were used to pilot large ships down the Thames, into and through the often chaotic docks.  They often worked in tandem, with one at the stern and one at the bow, and were often required not push smaller vessels out of their path within the docks.

The Sun vessels were known, collectively, as the Sun tugs because each was named Sun followed by a Roman numeral (Sun II, Sun III etc).  The company that operated them was W.H.J. Alexander Ltd, which operated out of Wapping as a lighterage company from 1883. The company began using the Sun prefix on their tug boats from 1899 onwards.  It was a fairly considerable family enterprise, and sons of William Alexander took tugs to Dunkirk during the Second World War.  The company was eventually amalgamated with another company to become London Tugs Ltd and was dissolved in 1978.  There's a short description of the company and its tugs, with a lot of good photographs, on the website.

One of the tugs that took the trip to Dunkirk, Sun VII was lost during that war.  She was built in 1917 by Rennie Forrest Ltd., Wivenhoe, for W.H.J. Alexander.  Her dimensions 105.2ft long by 25.5ft beam with a depth of 12.2ft and 202grt.  In 1917, during the First World War she was transferred to the Admiralty and was returned to her then owners in 1919. She was transferred back to W.H.J. Alexander Ltd in 1929.  She was once again requisitioned by the Admiralty  during 1939 and in 1940 went to Dunkirk towing five tenders. In 1941 she was destroyed by mines in Thames Estuary with the loss of five crew members (information from the website).

Velox.  Source: The Liquid Highway

Remarkably, the tiny 1949 tug Velox has survived.  She was built by Richard Dunston for Clements Knowling Ltd and in the 1950s was operated by the Port of London Authority.  Since then she has passed through numerous hands, and is now privately owned and no longer operates on the Thames.  She is a small tug 41.3ft by 12.1 ft beam with a depth of 5.0ft and 20GRT.  Her job was to move barges and smaller boats and dredgers, supplementing the work done by the large tugs that focused on safe piloting of ships.

Updated: The Howland Great Wet Dock

I have updated and expanded one of my much earlier posts on the heritage of Rotherhithe.  The Howland Great Wet Dock was completed in 1699/1700 as a shelter for ships on the Thames, to protect them from storms, ice and piracy, and to provide them with repair and refitting facilities.  

It was the first of the docks to be established in Rotherhithe, at a time when Rotherhithe was largely rural, with only a small fringe of barge and ship building activity in the area of St Mary's church, at the borders of Bermondsey.  The Howland Great Wet Dock eventually became Greenland Dock. 

This post covers its history from 1695 to 1807:

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Rotherhithe Community Council's Population: Now and in the Future"

In case it is of interest to anyone, pootling around to find out population figures for Rotherhithe I found a PDF report produced by the Southwark Analytical Hub, entitled "Population in Southwark. Rotherhithe Community Council.  Rotherhithe Community Council's Population: Now and in the Future."  It is dated October 2008.  

The introductory spiel says:  "This report looks at the general population of Rotherhithe Communicty Council as it was estimated to be in 2005, how population has changed since 2001 and what the population is projected to look like in the future to 2029."  

It is 15 pages long and deals with population numbers, age, and ethnicity, amongst other topics. It can be downloaded at (if you're interested I would save it now - these things have a habit of vanishing).  

Reports from around Rotherhithe indicate fallen trees and branches

Photograph by Steve Cornish.
After last night's high winds (I couldn't believe how loud it was during the night), there have been reports from all around Rotherhithe of fallen trees and branches, blocking paths and causing delays during rush-hour.  

Steve Cornish, Chair of the Friends of Russia Dock Woodland, took this photograph of a poplar leaning up against a house in Shipwright's Road, and says that tree fellers were in position to remove the tree at 9am this morning.  Nothing worse seems to have occurred in terms of damage to housing. 

Steve also points out that at least six large trees have fallen in the Russia Dock Woodland.

Pet welfare organizations are recommending that gardens are checked for fallen fences and gaps in hedges before letting dogs out, and that cats are kept indoors until the winds have dropped.  

I would imagine anyone taking the Thames Clipper this morning found it a more exciting experience than usual!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Short book review: A.G. Linney's "Peepshow of the Port of London"

Peepshow of the Port of London
A.G. Linney
Sampson Low, Marston and Co. Ltd. 1929
244 pages

There are a dozen things that I ought to have been getting on with, but when A.G. Linney's book Peepshow of the Port of London turned up a few weeks ago, I just had to dive straight in.  I had been looking for this book for ages, because it is frequently quoted as a good source of information about the Thames in the 1920s, when Linney was investigating every nook and cranny along the river and writing about his experiences.  It proved to be elusive, but it eventually turned up on my Amazon wishlist.

Published in 1929, between the First and Second World Wars, Linney wrote Peepshow when London's docks were all still operational. Linney could see signs of decline at that time, and it clearly concerned him.  Through Linney's eyes, the Port of London as a shipping destination was a vivid, vibrant world of ships, their cargoes, Thames-side buildings and a wide spectrum of the people who worked at the docks and wharves.

Linney's writing is full of energy and enthusiasm.  He saw romance and drama in the docks and their activities, and this comes over unmistakably in the way he writes about the world he was exploring, even down to the poetry of their names:  "To my thinking it is in the names of the stairs and the causeways and the ferries and the draw docks that the romance of the waterside is most quickly to be discerned.  On maps and charts there are names that catch the eye and grip the imagination so that one feels a spurt of interest."

Unlike his later book Lure and Lore of London's Rivers, this is not a geographical tour from one end of the tidal Thames to another.  Nor has he taken a historical approach, although he does give some accounts of the past of some of the sites he describes.  Instead, Linney has picked topics that attracted him, and has woven a travelogue around them.  The result is an elaborate and engaging mosaic of narrative descriptions, supported by a lot of black and white photographs most of which are from the author's own collection.  It's more lyrical than empirical, but it reads so smoothly and shares a huge amount of knowledge with the reader.

Linney's interests are broad, so as well as some wonderful descriptions of how things looked, and some lovely descriptions of ships using the docks, he goes into the nuts and bolts of how things operated as well.  There are great descriptions, for example, of the cargoes handled at various docks and how these were processed and sold. His section on ivory at the London Docks is particularly fascinating.

At all times Linney's enthusiasm and imagination draw the reader in to his perception of the docks and warehouses as endlessly intriguing places where produce of the world, everything from spice and ivory to flour and wool converged.  This comes over most strongly in his three chapters on the London Docks:  "Sometimes I stand by the main entrance to the London Docks and watch a wool-laden lorry go out and seek to let my imagination follow its contents from source to finish.  I see the vast sheep-runs of New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia, with their flocks numbered in millions;  I see the shearers at work in their sheds;  I see the wool wagons and the railway trucks making for tidewater; I see the big steamers headed for London River; I see the tug bringing up her train of lighters."   Elsewhere, some his descriptions are rather more prosaic and underwhelmed, most notably his description of the notoriously difficult launch of Brunel's Great Eastern, a ship that he describes as "this famous monstrosity."

There are also two chapters about Rotherhithe, because Linney was particularly attracted to the commercial shipping and dockland operations of the Surrey Commercial Docks.  They are Chapter XIV, The Fascination of Surrey Docks and Chapter XV, Round the Rim of Rotherhithe.   He was intrigued by the reputed insularity of the residents of the Downtown area of Rotherhithe who, "it is often said, have never ventured as far afield as the 'mainland' (Jamaica Road, Lower Road etc) and have passed all their lives by Surrey Docks.  To them the West End is actually as unknown as Timbuctoo."  Other areas covered in dedicated chapters are London Dock, Blackwall, the Isle of Dogs, Dagenham Reach and West India Dock.  Otherwise his chapters are more generic, with titles like Romance by the Riverside I and II, Over and Under the River, Side Streets and Hidden Rivers and The Wonder Warehouses of London, I, II and III.

This is a real mixture of history, field observation and anecdote.  Linney loved the Port of London, and this comes over clearly in his writing and his photographs.  If you are looking for an engaging and useful account of the Port of London in the 1920s, this book provides the perfect snapshot of the docks, wharves and river at that time. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Globe Wharf, Rotherhithe Street

Rotherhithe Street aspect of Globe Wharf
Globe Wharf is a vast six-storey warehouse built in pale yellow brick at 205 Rotherhithe Street, SE16 5XS and SE16 5XX.   Although now converted to apartments, it was originally built as a granary. 

I thought that it would be quite easy to find out a lot about the building, if only because it is such a massive presence, but it has taken a while to assemble any sort of coherent account of Globe Wharf from a number of sources.

Apart from its immense size (it is 20 bays wide and 13 deep), the most interesting features include the fine quality of the bricks, the four elevation housings with pyramid-shaped roofs, a jibbed crane, the interior wooden floors on iron columns and the way that it curves along the line of the road.  It is Grade II listed and there's a short description of its features on the British Listed Buildings website.

Globe Wharf from the Thames
Globe Wharf was built in c.1883 by A.P. Keen and Co. as a granary, handling wheat, barley and rice.  It was  named after the Upper Globe Dock Shipyard, on the site of which it was built, where Henry Bird Junior had built small ships for the Royal Navy during the mid 1700s and where William Marshall had a timber wharf.  The builders of Globe Wharf retained the dry dock, but this was filled in and built over in 1907.  Rotherhithe's shipbuilding yards had steadily been replaced by granaries and other warehouses as shipbuilders went out of business the requirement for Thames fronting warehouses spread steadily east from Bermondsey.  It was probably the single largest Rotherhithe commercial building.  According to research by Stephen Humphrey, in 1887 it could hold 60,000 quarters of corn.

In 1924 Globe Wharf was converted for storing and milling rice by Thames Rice Milling, one of several rice mills in Rotherhithe.  There's precious little information available about the establishment and operation of rice mills in London, so the following is the tip of a poorly recorded iceberg.   Rice milling is the process of separating the white centre (the pieces of rice that we buy and eat) from the various layers of husk and bran that surround it.  The milling machine (a rice huller or husker) was invented in the late 1700s and consisted of a feeding chute, rollers of wood or steel that broke up the outer layers and separated them from the edible interior. The mechanism spread rapidly throughout the United States throughout the 1800s and by the 1920s was employed all over the world.  Rice, originally imported from Asia, was also grown successfully in Spain, South, Central and North America and elsewhere.  Thames Rice Milling is now dissolved. 

The towers on top of the building, described in the Grade II listing description as elevation housings, were present in the 1937 photographs.  I was unable to find out what these towers were used for, but fortunately a reader, GeminiX, added a comment as follows, which is really helpful:

Upper Globe Wharf in 1937
I believe the towers housed winching mechanisms for lifting cargo out of boats on the river. Originally there were beams extending horizontally out over the river from the top floor of the building, with cables running up from the end of these to the winch gear in the towers. The drawback of this was that cargo could only be lifted up and down/in and out, but not in a sideways sweep. The tower cranes (at least the two at the west end of the building) were replaced by the more modern crane that is still on the front of the building today. Their beams would have been removed, but the redundant towers remained. I think the tower at the eastern end retained its beam for longer, because the new crane couldn't cover that end of the building. Interestingly, I think there were only ever 3 towers, the fourth (2nd from the left as you look at the building from the north bank) being added by the developers 20 years ago to even up the look of the building.

On the Thames frontage there is a red crane attached to the wall. This is a 20th Century addition, a lattice jibbed crane. It was not in place in the 1937 Port of London Authority panorama photographs, so it must have been added sometime later, during the tenure of Thames Rice Milling, which leased the building from Addis and Keen Ltd from 1934.  Now purely decorative, it was used to hoist cargo from boats moored outside.  It would have been easy for the company that converted the building to apartments to avoid the effort of preserving this piece of the wharf's heritage, so it is particularly welcome that it has been saved. Thames Rice Milling used the building primarily as a rice mill but also processed grain, flour and cereals in the same place. 

In the 1937 PLA photographs there was a rice chute on the front of the building, to the west of where the crane now hangs, leading from the roof down into the lower levels of the building. 

Apart from recessed bays, Globe Wharf's stark fa├žades were unalleviated by any form of decoration when it was built, unlike warehouses like the smaller Columbia Wharf and Brandram's Wharf, which employed coloured bricks to add some interest to the design. The balconies are, needless to say, a modern addition.   The only decorative element is a dentilled brick cornice, which can be clearly seen in the third photograph just beneath the roof.  The brick is of a much higher quality than the usual London stock used for most warehouses and granaries in Rotherhithe, a much paler shade with a smooth surface without the usual pits and cavities. 

The building curves along a bend in the road.  As it would have been much easier to build it in a straight line, the original road presumably followed the same curve, as it does today.  The Thames frontage is perfectly straight. 

Immediately downriver are the Globe waterman's stairs, which are clearly visible in the second photograph. 

The building was purchased during the 1990s by Berkley Homes and was converted for residential use.   It was restored and converted into 138 apartments by P.R.P. Architects between 1996 and 1999, the modern conversion includes internal courtyards where brickwork shows different stages of the building's evolution.  I am told that a rice chute is preserved in one of these.

Globe Wharf in 1937, with one of the rice chutes

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rotherhithe Street Names - part 3

Again, just for fun, here is the third part of a look at how the streets in Rotherhithe gained their names. 
Part 1
Part 2

Beastson Walk
The Beatson family were ship breakers during the first half of the 19th Century.  They purchased wooden ships from the Admiralty and elsewhere, the useful lives of which were over, to process for materials that could be re-used.  The most famous ships to be broken at the Beatsons' yard were Temeraire and Belleraphon.  The last of the Rotherhithe Beatsons, William Beatson, trained as an architect and was responsible for St Paul/Peter Chapel, now destroyed.  He moved to New Zealand, taking with him some items of furniture made from the timbers of the Temeraire.

1845 map showing the Commercial Docks
Commercial Dock Passage
Although all of the Rotherhithe docks became jointly known as the Surrey Commercial Docks, when they were first constructed, three of those docks were referred to as the Commercial Docks and were linked via Norway Dock to Greenland Dock, which opened via its lock onto the Thames.  They are clearly marked on the 1845 map of Rotherhithe.  The dock names were all changed as the grew in number and companies merged.  The three Commercial Docks were later renamed, and by 1868 they were called, from north to south, Lavender Pond, Acorn Pond and Lady Dock.

Cunard Walk
Between the wars, the ocean liner Cunard made Greenland Dock the home base for its A-Class liners, and they must have been quite a site coming down the Thames and turning into the lock.  These liners were covered in an earlier post.

Canon Beck Road, past and present,
from the website.
Beck Road
The Reverend Beck was the vicar of St Mary's Rotherhithe and its parish.  Following on from the work of Reverend Blick, for whom he had considerable admiration, he was an energetic supporter of the poor families in the area, making a considerable difference to their quality of life of  in the mid to late 1800s by working to establish new churches and schools. In these endeavours he was frequently supported with land or finance by the Lord of the Manor of Rotherhithe, Sir William Maynard Gomm and his wife Elizabeth.  He wrote a book about the history of Rotherhithe called "Memorials to Serve for a History of the Parish of St Mary, Rotherhithe" which is still essential reading for anyone interested in local history.

Canon Beck Road
Again, named for the Reverend Beck (see above)

Cherry Garden Street
The long vanished Cherry Gardens, which also gave their name to Cherry Garden Pier, were pleasure gardens where Londoners could come and relax in the 1700s.  Samuel Pepys, who often passed through Rotherhithe on his way to the docks at Deptford, made a note in his diary of collecting cherries for his wife from the gardens. 

Derrick Street
A derrick is a form of crane.  A single large Scotch derrick is preserved just off Odessa Street, where the Thames path can be rejoined, heading towards Tower Bridge, but there used to be many of them in Rotherhithe.  The Scotch derrick has been discussed on an earlier post. Derricks could also be attached to the side of buildings and to ships.

Gomm Road
Sir William Maynard Gomm was Lord of the Manor of Rotherhithe, and Mayor of Rotherhithe (1784-1875).  He and his wife were considerable benefactors to the local community, working closely with Reverend Blick and then Reverend Beck of the parish of St Mary, providing land and money for social projects, including schools and churches.

Gulliver's Travels
Gulliver Street
Named for the famous book Gulliver's Travels.  The author, Jonathan Swift, gave his fictional character Lemuel Gulliver a home in Rotherhithe.

King Stair Close
Named for the nearby waterman's stairs.  These provided access for professional watermen and lightermen to the river frontage.  There were stairs all along the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe frontage of the Thames, usually surrounded by an array of commercial buildings.  Kings Stairs still exist at the top of Cathay Street.

Needleman Street
The neeldemen were dockers who sewed up sacks of grain and other products that had been breached during cargo handling.

Pageant Crescent
Pageant's wharf is known from as early as the late 1600s.  No-one seems to know why it was so-named.  The usual explanation for odd street names is that they were named for a local pub, but there's no record of a public house of that name. Pageant's Wharf was in constant use as a shipyard, producing numerous ships for the Royal Navy, amongst others.  Part of the site was converted into the Lavendar entrance lock in the 1860s, part of it was converted into a fire station and the rest was used as a timber yard.  In the 1990s all traces of it were completely destroyed by Barratts, who built housing over the old site.

Renforth Street
Named for the town of Renforth in New Brunswick, Canada, on the Kennebecasis River, one of the major sources of wood imported into the Rotherhithe docks.  The town of Renforth was itself named after a British rowing champion who died of heart failure in a competition on the Kennebecasis River.

Russell Place
Russell was the surname of the Duke of Bedford.  In 1695 a parcel of land on Rotherhithe was given as a wedding gift by the Howland family of Streatham to their daughter Elizabeth  and her husband the Marquis of Tavistock and the future second Duke of Bedford. Together the families built the Howland Great Dock, a site that was finished in the early 1700s following the granting of an Act in its favour in 1696.

Waterman's Walk
Timber Pond Road
The Rotherhithe timber ponds were established to float timber imported from Canada and the Baltic.  At one stage, timber accounted for 80% of all imports of cargo into Rotherhithe.

Waterman's Walk
Watermen were responsible for ferrying people across and along the Thames in small boats, whilst lightermen carried out the highly skilled task of moving barges with no form of propulsion up and down the Thames. Watermen and lightermen had their own guild.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

DVD Review: London's Lost Docks

London's Lost Docks.  Memories of London's Docks and River Thames
Online Video Productions
55 Minutes

I've had this on my shelves for ages without having carved out a hole in my day to watch it.  I'm a terrible fidget and normally work through any television or DVD that I'm watching, but I knew that this was a sit-down-and-pay-attention job so I finally  pushed the keyboard away and sat in front of the TV for 55 minutes.  Well worth it.

The films included on this DVD span both amateur and professional achievements.  The earliest is black and white footage of the London canal system in the 1920s.  Most of the rest of it dates to the late 40s, 50s and 60s.  The blurb on the back of the cover describes it as recording the "heyday" of the dock system, but it was on its last legs by the end of the 60s.

A lot of the footage is very "noisy" and unclear, some due to its age, but the poor quality of the 1980s aeriel footage seems difficult to explain.

The DVD starts off with an aerial tour of the river and the remains of the docks on the north bank as they were in the 1980s.  This begins with a look at Tower Bridge and traffic passing through the open bridge, including some terrific paddle steamers.  It then goes on to show recordings of Port of London Authority tours into the Royal Docks.  I had no idea that the PLA did pleasure tours of the docks, and they must have been terrific.  Again, it is very fuzzy but it is excellent to see swing and lift bridges in motion, tug boats moving into position, barges and lighters, and the endless lines of commercial ships up against the quays and the vast cranes.  A stunning black and white film from the 30s shot from the paddle steamer Isle of Arran by a cine society shows a hand-operated lighter in action, sailing barges on the Thames, tugs and Thames scenery before moving into the Royal Docks where various ships can be seen.  Next, horse-drawn barges are shown from the 1920s on the Regent's Canal, a locks is shown being filled, a fabulous tram and other 20s vehicles are captured at Whitechapel, tracts of East End housing are glimpsed and scenes from Billingsgate fish market are excellent.  Next, the train systems of the Beckton gasworks, Woolwich and PLA bases are shown.  The Woolwich ferries are then put under the spotlight, with colour footage of the remarkable paddle steamers built between 1920 and 1930.  1959 footage shows trolley buses, in colour, at Woolwich.  Paddle steamer enthusiasts will not be disappointed.  Golden Eagle is shown on a run down to Southend, in black and white, and Medway Queen is shown briefly too, as are the Duke of Devonshire (renamed Consul) and the lovely Queen of the South.  

The DVD wraps up with the film by Lewis Coles. Lewis Coles was a Kodak cameraman and a film that he shot in the late 1950s is the longest of the pieces on the DVD, starting at Westminster and recording dock scenes along the way, as far as Tilbury. It is also the best record of the docks on the DVD.  The quality of the film is fairly good, and the scenes shown are terrific, capturing the everyday scenes of life in the docks, ships moving in and out of the docks and at berth, some being loaded and unloaded, steam blowing in the wind, empty barges nudged out of the way by the ubiquitous tugs, timber on quays, bridges opening, cranes and trains, and smoke everywhere.  It is truly fascinating to see all the shapes and sizes of barges, boats and ships that were still using the Thames in the late 50s.

For those with a specific interest in Rotherhithe and the Surrey Commercial Docks, the Lewis Coles footage has some general shots, and particularly features ships and other vessels in Canada Dock and Greenland Dock.   Those include California Star, Baltic Express, Pallas, the dredger Gallion's Reach, the miniature tug Velox and various Sun tugs.  There are very few dock features to make out, although the stacks of timber were typical of the Surrey Commercial Docks.  The one feature that I could make out was the brilliant lattice swing bridge over Greenland Dock's lock, in the open position and flanked by two ships. 

The narration provides top-level information about what the footage records, including ship names, ship functions and key landmarks.  However, for the Lewis Coles film, no commentary is provided as the DVD makers decided to allow the film to speak for itself. Sadly the quality isn't quite good enough for me to make out the names of some of the ships, so a bit of narration (or opt-out subtitles) might have helped with that.    

The emphasis is less on the docks than on the Thames, but apart from a brief look at pleasure steamers, the emphasis is squarely on commercial traffic.  For those expecting to see a variety of docks, the Royal Docks are most heavily represented and others, like the Surrey Commercial Docks, are only shown in the Lewis Coles film. 

The quality of the film generally isn't very good, but the fact that it exists at all is great, and it is well worth viewing. For someone who only moved into the area 20 years ago, this is all sadly long gone.  The Surrey Commercial Docks were closed only a few years after I was born. Although I have many books about the area, there is nothing like seeing what something is like in motion. It's the next best thing to a time machine. I enjoyed it enormously, although not without regrets for things lost.