We are living through a time of anxiety and trouble the like of which our country hasn’t seen since the Second World War. And as has happened to many of you, my plans have been disrupted and proposed interviews shelved so I would like to take you back to 1907 when artist Thomas R Way produced a beautiful book on the Thames in collaboration with Walter Bell, who wrote the accompanying text. Both loved the river and knew it well, and though the century since the publication of their book The Thames: From Chelsea to the Nore has seen spectacular changes in architecture, industry and employment along the river there is much that is still recognisable today.
In his preface, Thomas Way describes noticing a poster on a steamboat pier in the summer of 1900 “announcing a fête at Rosherville Gardens”, Gravesend, once famous but somewhat neglected as an attraction since the Great Exhibition in South Kensington in 1851, and due to be sold as land for building. Happy to take a last chance to visit the gardens, which he regretted not having visited in the past, he decided “to make a day of it and to start with the MERMAID from Charing Cross pier”. It was this trip that inspired him “to go on with a scheme started some years before when making a series of Thames lithographs in connection with the artist C E Holloway,” who had died in 1897.
Known for his previous work on historic buildings, his approach here was to “deal with the modern aspect of the Thames, which is picturesque enough to be quite interesting without any antiquarian flavour.” So he reflected life as he saw it.
I hope that you will all stay well and enjoy a time-travel voyage of discovery in the coming weeks to escape in this and my future excerpts from The Thames: From Chelsea to the Nore.
Spend a little time on, or around Tower Bridge, and you’ll see a lot of activity, not as in the past when this part of the Port of London was a teeming mass of cargo ships and barges but there’s certainly more movement than a few years ago. Not only has an effort been put into promoting the Thames as a cultural and recreational asset but the ecological and economical value of transporting materials to and from construction sites along the river is now an essential part of today’s thinking.
There are tourist boats; tugs; yachts, from small to super-sized; RIBs; Police and RNLI launches; Port of London vessels; and historic ships, the most famous being HMS BELFAST, a popular place for visiting ships to moor alongside. Downstream from Tower Bridge you can see Butler’s Wharf Pier and St. George’s Stairs Tier, both often used as moorings on the south bank, and HMS PRESIDENT, a Royal Navy shore base, faces them on the opposite side. The area covers what is known as the Pool of London, and the part upstream from Tower Bridge as far as London Bridge is known as the Upper Pool. Large ships on a scheduled visit to that part of the river, have to book a Bridge Lift at least twenty-four hours in advance but many are fixed a long time before that and you can see the names of expected ships on the above link. Here below you can meet four of our recent visitors. ***************************************************
OCEAN MAJESTY In August, 2019, HMS BELFAST permanently moored in the Upper Pool, received a berth mate almost as large as herself: the elegant 274 cabin cruise ship OCEAN MAJESTY. She needed to be carefully guided in by two towage tugs before passengers were able to make their way ashore, via a gangway to HMS BELFAST. Her Bridge Lift times for arrival and departure already reserved, she is scheduled to return to London later this year on September 13.
HMS TYNE From time to time official visits by Royal Navy vessels take place and in February 2020, HMS TYNE based in Portsmouth, made London her port of call. Her main role patrolling the sea from South Shields to the Bay of Biscay, is to protect fish stocks but she is also involved with “environmental protection, search and rescue, and maritime security”, which keeps her very busy, “spending nine out of every ten days of the year at sea”. She came to London for a three-day tour moored alongside HMS BELFAST where, among others, she hosted visits for potential recruits and Naval Reservists from the London area, based at HMS PRESIDENT.
NLV PHAROS… … a Northern Lighthouse Vessel, is a multi-function ship “equipped with a helicopter pad, dynamic positioning, a thirty tonne crane, and a hydrographic survey suite.” Based in Oban, she operates on behalf of the Northern Lighthouse Board (NLB) off the Scottish and Isle of Man coasts, finding any possible dangers to shipping in the form of wrecks, movement of shoals, and all types of hazardous floating debris. She is also used for conducting buoy operations and maintaining the NLB’s 206 lighthouses that have guided seafarers through the Manx and Scottish waters for more than two centuries. In addition, she takes part in annual training exercises to practice rescue scenarios in the case of a submarine accident.
Her visit to the Thames, as an important guest taking part in London’s International Shipping week from September 7 – 13, 2019, was an opportunity for the NLB to profile her work and to make contacts through a series of receptions and seminars hosted on board including events for the Met Office, the UK Chamber of Shipping, and the Department for Transport. This was deemed a success and for those who saw her during her week’s stay alongside HMS BELFAST it was pleasure to see such a fine ship in the centre of London.
BELLAMI A golden super yacht, came to call in on the 2019 London Fashion Week to raise the profile of the Bellami hair extension company. All blinged up, her lower decks were wrapped in a startling coat of gold chrome vinyl, which attracted more than a few derisory comments from Londoners on her *look at me* flashiness. She was certainly an eye-catcher. Yet I rather liked the way she seemed to colour-match Butler’s Wharf quite neatly where I saw her on October 5th. Ultra-glamourous, she is fitted with six luxury rooms for up to a dozen guests, a hair salon, spa, sundeck, pool, jacuzzi and a glass waterfall.
End notes: Poet, Imogen Forster, MA (Newcastle) in Writing Poetry, and translator of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo from French into English. She also translates Spanish and Catalan. Follow Imogen Forster on Twitter: @ForsterImogen
The tidal Thames is busy these days. Bennett’s Barges is one of the operators supplying parts and equipment to construction projects along the river.
The distinctive livery of passing Bennett’s Barges and their tugs is sure to catch your eye as you look out over the river. Part of the Livett’s Group, their tugs and barges are working on the western section of the super sewer for London. Bennett’s Barges was founded in 1983 and was involved with a number of high profile projects such as the removal of aggregate and soil from among others, the Limehouse Link tunnel and the Jubilee Line Extension. After further changes they are now part of a joint venture between Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group, and Aggregate Industries. You will see them not only on the Thames but also along the rivers Medway and Swale.
A fleet of eight large, new, specially designed “Tideway Class” hopper barges was built in order to carry out their work along the tidal Thames on the Tideway Tunnel for London’s new super sewer. They were designed particularly for this task by Bennett’s Barges in conjunction with Baars BV in Holland, where they were built. Barge CHURCHILL was delivered in February 2018, followed by PHOEBE, ZEUS, HERCULES, POSEIDON and APOLLO. The final two, PEGASUS and VALIANT arrived in April that same year.
“Their decks are much wider, and therefore safer than traditional Thames barges,” explains Ed Livett, son of Chris Livett, “and also designed to be pushed, rather than towed, which we find to be safer and more fuel efficient.”
Their boldly painted names are unmissable, heavily accented towards heroes and qualities of courage, giving a pleasing nobility to these latest river workhorses. When asked in an interview by the Thames Festival Trust how they were chosen, Chris Livett said that some were chosen through a Twitter poll but one was rather nicely named PHOEBE after his granddaughter.
Empty barges are pushed upstream by some of the tugs from their fleet that I see regularly, including FELIX, CHRISTIAN and STEVEN B. They are filled with spoil excavated from the Tideway Tunnel sites, particularly at Carnwath Road, Fulham, and in addition the site at Putney.
Tugs FELIX and CHRISTIAN, both capable of towing and pushing, are equipped with a hydraulic wheelhouse making them unique and ideal for use in Central London. Tug STEVEN B is also a familiar sight.
Also making their way upstream to these same sites are rounded tunnel segments transported on flat top pontoons, or flat top barges, which if you have time to look, you’ll see are named SIDNEY L, P2, ROVER and WILLCARRY. Ed tells me that Sidney L is named after the family dog.
Each barge loaded with tunnel segments relieves London’s roads of up to twenty-eight lorry journeys, cutting back on congestion and pollution. And each “Tideway Class” hopper barge removing materials excavated from the tunnel sites by river, spares London from up to fifty lorry loads. This is all good news for the environment for with the super sewer and several other building projects, both Bennett’s Barges and the other companies using the river as a highway, are saving our city from increases in noise, dangerous levels of traffic, and toxic air.
Once delivered the segments are offloaded by a harbour crane, ready for installation underground.
The filled barges are pushed to Rainham Marshes in Essex, where they are unloaded by Land & Water Ltd., a company working on a wildlife habitat creation scheme in the area.
Chris Livett, Managing Director of the Livett’s Group is also Bargemaster to H.M. the Queen, and belongs to a family with a long tradition of working on the Thames. In an interview for the Thames Festival Trust of whose Board he is a member, he explains that he is a “Seventh Generation Waterman” but that until now his family had worked as tug or barge captains. He is the first to “run a serious business on the river”. However what comes across in the article is his real love of the Thames, its heritage, culture and way of life. And it is a passion that he has passed on to his son Ed, who takes pride in being an eighth generation Waterman, also a Director of the Livett’s Group. And Bennett’s Barges is an important part of the enterprise, raising the company profile as their tug captains skilfully steer their barges along the reaches of the tidal Thames.
Further Information Bennett’s Barges and their place in Aggregate Industries. Discover the wide-ranging services on the river offered by the Livett Group. See Managing Director Chris Livett talking about the company. You can also follow Chris Livett on Twitter: @ChrisLivett
As you walk along the banks of the central London Thames, you can see there’s no doubt about the sense of purpose of waste-towing Cory tugs passing on the river. Their names are a strong indication of their resolve. As Reclaim; Recovery; Redoubt; Regain; and Resource tow their barges up and downstream, you can watch them skilfully navigating the shoals and bridges of this tightly knit section of the river, making use of the tides as they go.
Cory Riverside Energy have been operating a lighterage business on the Thames for over 120 years, transferring cargo from large ships of different sizes to barges taking short trips to piers, depots or warehouses, so that their Captains and crews have both a long tradition and the experience “to deal with anything that the Thames can put in their way.”
The company started life in 1896 as William Cory & Son Ltd., transporting over five million tonnes of coal, coke and patent fuel into London each year. Their barges, which would have been empty for the return journey, were then used for the removal of household and other waste from London. “Every tug leaving London on the Thames left with a cargo of rubbish from London’s streets, for ultimate disposal on the marshlands of Kent and Essex.”
Cory are rightly proud of their work along the Thames today. Transporting London’s waste by river saves around 100,000 lorries a year from congesting and polluting the city’s streets. Using the rhythm of the tides, their tugs tow barges loaded with empty containers upstream on the flood tide, delivering them to borough collection points along the river. Once there, empty containers are lifted off and filled containers are loaded in their place by crane. The barges are then towed back downstream on the ebb tide.
Cory’s waste recovery service at their Belvedere plant, converting waste into energy, supplies power to 160,000 homes; provides 200,000 tonnes of ash left over from the incineration process to be recycled into aggregate for a variety of construction projects; and recovers 10,000 tonnes of air pollution control residue, which after careful processing is converted into building blocks.
The maximum number of crew on their tugs is six, “made up of the Master, Mate and Engineer, plus two or three Lightermen.”
If you happen to walk along the central London section of the Thames Path National Trail for any length of time, you will become aware of the river traffic, and among the many vessels navigating that part of the river, you are bound see the brightly liveried Cory tugs towing their barges of lemon-yellow containers. Their highly trained Captains make their passage look easy. It is not. The Thames has some awkward and fast-flowing currents, particularly around the bridges, and shallow stretches, all of which have to be learnt. And at the moment, with so much construction under way, on the Tideway sewer and elsewhere, vessels have to take extra care. This is emphasised in short section of one of the films on Cory’s site “What we do”, where Cory Tug Master John Dwan says among all the other aspects of his job “Health and safety come first of all”.
A past winner of the famous Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race John Dwan explains how his family, along with some others, is intricately bound up with work along the Thames, the tradition passing across the generations from father to son, to nephews and cousins… Branches of the Dwan family have worked at a whole variety of jobs along the river for over five hundred years. So if you watch the passing tugs and barges carefully, you will sense the continuity and see a proud strand of history played out before you.