Metamorphosis of a Thames boat

From CHEVENING, through RIVER PRINCESS to SAPPHIRE OF LONDON….with help and images from Waterman and Lighterman Ben.

M.V. SAPPHIRE OF LONDON. ©Patricia Stoughton

Walking along the banks of the River Thames in recent months, you might well have caught sight of M.V. SAPPHIRE OF LONDON in her freshly painted London Party Boats’ livery. But like many boats on the Thames, she wasn’t always like this: she has a history. And with the help of Ben of The Liquid Highway here is her story so far.

Photograph of CHEVENING from the 1970s. ©Ben of Liquid Highway

Her first iteration was as CHEVENING, built in 1974, working for Greenwich Pleasure Craft, where she was mainly used for sightseeing and private charter functions on trips between Greenwich and Westminster.

In 1984 she was bought by Catamaran Cruisers and ran on a route similar to that used by City Cruises today, from Embankment or Westminster Pier to Greenwich Pier. It was with her, a few years later in 2006, that Thames Waterman and Lighterman Ben began his career on the River Thames.

M.V. CHEVENING heading upstream having passed beneath the Millennium Bridge, June 24, 2006. ©Ian Boyle,

Ben has written about M.V. CHEVENING on his Liquid Highway page, and as he began his employment as an apprentice when he was sixteen to seventeen, he knows her well. He tells me “I worked as a deckhand and mate for Catamaran Cruisers” but though young and just setting out, “I was very lucky to be able to work with so many old school characters, many old lightermen who had a wealth of knowledge to pass on and they were more than happy to teach you how to handle a single screw boat.”

M.V. CHEVENING, 2006. ©Ben of Liquid Highway

Ben explained that her specifications in 2007 were: “Length: 88ft; Draft: 5.18ft; GRT: 129; Passengers: 254, inc 4 crew; Engine: Volvo TMD 102A (Fitted 1997).” He adds that “CHEVENING was a lovely boat to steer, though single screw propulsion could be a little tricky in wind but she was easy to handle.”

M.V. CHEVENING, 1995. Her top deck had been opened out a year or so before, to benefit summer sightseeing. © Ben of The Liquid Highway

Clearly the River Thames has been very much a part of Ben’s life from an early age. He says that he would often go to work with his Dad at Catamaran Cruisers as a young boy, and he has fond memories of the boats looking smart in the mid-nineties. In fact he thinks that the livery in the photo above was “one of the smartest”.

In September 2007 Catamaran Cruisers ceased trading. CHEVENING was sold to Thames Cruises in 2008 and by then was in “need of a refit in certain areas like her wheelhouse” and also in need of modernisation, so she was moved upriver to the boatyard on Eel Pie Island owned by Ken Dwan and Bill Ludgrove, also owners of Thames Cruises, with whom she would eventually sail. She was due an extensive rebuild and though some work was initially carried out, she languished, unfinished “moved on and off the slipway to make way for other vessels.”

CHEVENING on Eel pie Island 2011. © Ben of The Liquid Highway

Ben explains that “By 2009 she had had her wheelhouse cut off and her stair casing removed and she stayed like this until 2013 when her rebuild started to take shape.” He adds, “After seven long years, just as we were all starting to wonder if the work would ever be completed… she returned to the water once more, this time working for Thames Cruises under the new name of RIVER PRINCESS.”

CHEVENING on Eel Pie Island 2013. © Ben of The Liquid Highway

The following photographs of RIVER PRINCESS and SAPPHIRE OF LONDON were taken from 2019 onwards.

RIVER PRINCESS heading downstream along Lambeth Reach. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS at her Thames Cruises’, Lambeth Pier mooring, May 2021. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS setting out on a trip, July 2021. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS resting next to her sister THAMES PRINCESS at their Thames Cruises’, Lambeth Pier mooring, January 2019. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS heading towards Vauxhall Bridge, February 2020. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS coming through Waterloo Bridge, March 2022. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS passing the Palace of Westminster, August 2022. ©Patricia Stoughton
RIVER PRINCESS passing the House of Commons bar, August 2023. ©Patricia Stoughton

In 2023 when RIVER PRINCESS was sold to London Party Boats, she went to dry dock at Bay Wharf in Greenwich where, after repair and maintenance, she was repainted. “The final touches were done on the moorings next to Millbank Pier.”

Now here, with her new name and in her new livery, is the RIVER PRINCESS metamorphosed into the SAPPHIRE OF LONDON, owned by London Party Boats Ltd. She is one of their fleet of six elegant boats available to hire for all kinds of event and party cruises through the heart of London and its famous Thames-side buildings and bridges.

SAPPHIRE of London, April 2024. ©Patricia Stoughton
SAPPHIRE OF LONDON part of the London landscape, May 2024. ©Patricia Stoughton
SAPPHIRE OF LONDON approaches Lambeth Bridge, May 2024. ©Patricia Stoughton
SAPPHIRE OF LONDON at her Lambeth Reach mooring next to sister EMERALD OF LONDON. ©Patricia Stoughton

Wishing her, and all who sail with her, happy times in the future.

Sources and Further Information
The Liquid Highway, September 16, 2014.
London Party Boats
The Chevening on Simplon Postcards

With many thanks to:
Thames Waterman and Lighterman Ben. His Liquid Highway, site is the world’s largest Thames vessel photo gallery and major resource for anyone wishing to research boats both past and present that have operated along the Thames.

St. Thomas’ Hospital…

Reposting this article from last year, with thanks to St. Thomas’ Hospital A&E and the team who looked after me so well.

…from the river.

A London landmark, the North Wing of St. Thomas’ Hospital, stands on the banks of the Thames beside Westminster Bridge and opposite the Palace of Westminster. Designed and built by architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall it was completed in 1975. Opened by Queen Elizabeth on November 16, 1976, it was regarded by some, including MPs seeing it from their riverside terrace bars, as rather too large and forbidding, and public opposition led to the cancellation of a second block of the same height proposed as part of the site’s further development. Looking at it from across the river, I suspect I’m not the only one to find its presence reassuring.

The Southbank Lion looking across at the hospital from the eastern approach to Westminster Bridge.
One of Sir Charles Barry’s Westminster Bridge Lamps.
The National Covid Memorial Wall, started in March 2021, stretching along the Albert Embankment below St. Thomas’ Hospital.
A section of thousands of red memorial hearts on the National Covid Memorial Wall, overlooked by the white-tiled St. Thomas’ Hospital.

The doctors and nurses of St. Thomas’ Hospital rose to the almost overwhelming challenge of the Covid-19 virus with selfless courage and professionalism as did all those working across the NHS. Enthusiastically applauded by politicians and celebrities in an initiative started by Annemarie Plas called ‘Clap for Carers’, more significantly they were also applauded by millions of people in town and village streets all over the country. Every Thursday evening at 8 o’clock for nine weeks, from March 26, 2020, applause rang out from houses and flats: cheering, clapping and clanging of pots and pans. But now those who were in the front line await a fair reward for their service in the same way that retired members of our armed forces are cared for by “The Armed Forces Covenant, a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.”

In existence on previous London sites since the 1100s, St. Thomas’ Hospital, designed by Henry Currey, moved to this site on the Albert Embankment in 1871. ©Alamy photographs.

St.Thomas’ Hospital, now part of the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, was founded in the 1100s. It has a long history, changing location a number of times, and was finally established on its present site in 1871. Their website author explains how during the First World War “it was requisitioned in 1914 to create the 5th London General Hospital to treat military casualties.” The Second World War saw the hospital “repeatedly bombed during the Blitz, but it never closed.”

St. Thomas’ Hospital, February 28, 2023. The three remaining Victorian ward pavilion blocks and former Medical School with its tower designed by Henry Currey, are now Grade II Listed.

“The first bomb, on 9 September 1940, killed two nurses and four physiotherapists. During the war, ten members of staff were killed and many wounded, but incredibly, no patients were seriously injured.” 1941 saw further destructive bombing and by the end of the war, “the northern part of the hospital was severely damaged, with three ward blocks destroyed.”

The Victorian St. Thomas’ Hospital designed by Henry Currey, was built on the newly-reclaimed land that formed the Albert Embankment. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1868 and impressively, four years later in 1871 the building was completed. It was designed on the ‘pavilion principle’ advocated by Florence Nightingale in her Notes on Nursing, 1859, emphasising the need for separate ward buildings, the segregation of patients with infectious diseases, and good ventilation. The system remained in place until the destruction of three of the pavilions by bombing during the Second World War.

The first of the buildings of the original St. Thomas’ Hospital spared from bombing during the Blitz.
Two of the three remaining pavillon blocks seen from Victoria Tower Gardens across the river.
Work in progress on a new building.
Block 9, the former Medical School: a two storey Italianate building with Tower.
The Palace of Westminster seen from St. Thomas’ Hospital.

The view of the Palace of Westminster over the Thames from the hospital is famous. The image above is taken from ground level but the higher you go, the more impressive it becomes. From the other side, the North Wing of St. Thomas’ hospital has become a striking yet familiar and comforting Thames landmark.

St. Thomas’ Hospital seen across the Thames from Victoria Tower Gardens, their Covid-19 vaccination centre in the white marquee.
Rainbow’s end.
St. Thomas’ Hospital, a light in the darkness, seen from Westminster Bridge.

Dreadnaught Medical Services
Based at St. Thomas’ Hospital is a service that offers NHS treatment for working seafarers and their dependants. Fishermen, merchant seafarers, pilots, tugboat crew and cadets can apply.

The Dreadnaught was one of the original hospital ships set up by the Seafarers Hospital Society on the Thames at Greenwich after the Napoleonic wars. Now, 200 years later, the service is land based and run by the NHS.

Sources and further information
St. Thomas’ Hospital
St. Thomas’ Nurse remembers the Blitz.
History of Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust.
Education and training at Guy’s and St.Thomas’.
Block 9 of St. Thomas’ Hospital Medical School