Casting about for something better to do on a slightly damp, bank holiday saturday I set off to walk the Thames Path National Trail eastwards. This section of the pathway follows the north bank of the Thames which, on my own south-london-centric map of the capital, is generally labelled “here be dragons”, so I reckoned it was worth a look.
Originally this area was predominately industrial, but now is very residential as the warehouses and wharves have been developed and converted into expensive loft apartments. However, the history of the area still lingers in the names of buildings, street names and memorials you pass along the way.
Past St Katharine’s Dock I came across Hermitage Gardens, where another work by the sculptor Wendy Taylor stands. This memorial to the east end civilians killed during the blitz, stands in the gardens which were formerly the site of Hermitage Wharf, destroyed by a massive fire bomb attack on 29th December 1940. The dove represents hope, but is presented as an absence, to reflect the lives lost.
Just after the gardens I found the site of Wapping old stairs, next to the 15th century pub “The Town of Ramsgate”, so called because the fishermen of Ramsgate would land their catches here. Fortunately the tide was really low, which meant I could go and scramble about a bit on the foreshore. The high percentage of chalk littering the ground surprised me – until I remembered some basic ‘O’ level geography and the fact that there is a significant amount of chalk within the Thames Basin. The foreshore is a colourful mix of chalk and bricks, whilst the stairs and walls at low tide are splashed dark green with highly slippery algae and weeds making the narrow steps rather perilous!
I was also surprised by the number of parks and gardens along the route – at Wapping, the Waterside Gardens are supposed to be the site of Execution Dock, where pirates were hung until the tide washed over them three times. A little further along in the King Edward Memorial Gardens at Shadwell you pass by the ventilation shafts for the Rotherhithe Tunnel – classic Victorian styling of what, I suspect, would probably be a rather utilitarian build today!
Another discovery along the way was the launch site of the Steam Ship “Great Eastern”, once the largest ship the world had ever seen. The sideways launch into the Thames was not a huge success and in her lifetime she bankrupted several companies, but did play a huge part in the laying of the transatlantic telegraph cables in the later 1800s.
Walking alongside Canary Wharf towards Island gardens the area slowly changes from high finance to local housing and community buildings. It’s easy to forget that before the rather contentious years of the London Docklands Development Corporation and the creation of the financial district, the Isle of Dogs was a centre of ship building, engineering, chemical works and food processing. In fact much of the new housing still bears the names of the businesses that provided work and homes for the island families.
The walk officially finishes at Island Gardens where the classical buildings of the Greenwich World Heritage Site display their elegant facades on the southern bank of the river. Getting back to the south side and home however was simple – a quick stroll under the river, via the Greenwich foot tunnel!
Despite the unexpected rain and rather greying aspects throughout the day, I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of the
dark North side of the river, and even learnt a few new things along the way!
©Chez l’abeille 2015