Sunday, 24 January 2016

Crossing the river at Woolwich


There are only a few things that I miss about London of which my family is the biggest, but then there is also the river.

We never lived that far away from it and for me it marks many of my childhood memories.  Like the time Jimmy O’Donnell, John Cox and I went exploring along the beach below Greenwich Pier.

We could have chosen the stretch in front of the Naval College which was clean and from memory even had a little sand.

Instead we took the steps down to the river beside the brick dome which contains the stairs to the start of the foot tunnel and turned upriver and past a couple of beached Thames barges and promptly sank in the oily mud up to our ankles and had to be rescued by a bargee.

Now I suppose we should have been thankful, but we still had to face a two mile walk back to New Cross and the inevitable inquest into how shoes and socks were covered in Thames mud.  To this day I have to admit that under the stern questioning of my mother and to my continued shame I blamed the other two for my misfortune.

All of which is a roundabout way of reflecting on how the river back then in 1960 was still a working river.

My bit of the Thames from Woolwich up through Greenwich and Deptford was a busy noisy and dirty place full of cranes, barges and ships.

Not that of course it is anything like that today.

So last year  on our way back north from a holiday in Kent we missed the M25 and headed into London past the old family house in Eltham and made a river crossing at Woolwich on the ferry.

The first ferries were side-loading paddle steamers named Gordon, Duncan and Hutton,named after General Gordon of Khartoum, Colonel Francis Duncan MP and Professor Charles Hutton.

They were replaced, in the 1920s with The Squire, named after William Squires, a former mayor of Woolwich, and in 1930 with the Will Crooks the Labour MP for Woolwich from 1903-1921 and the John Benn who was a member of London County Council, Liberal MP for Wapping, and grandfather of Tony Benn.

The present  three vessels carry the names of John Burns, Ernest Bevin and James Newman who were also local politicians.

I had forgotten just how much I used to enjoy  the 7 or so minute crossing and just how much of the river you could see.

Locaton; Woolwich, London

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson 

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