Just before the Covid-19 virus became a real concern to the wider public, I had the chance to meet Waterman and Lighterman, Eric Carpenter in St. Katharine Docks. His knowledge and understanding of the river and its tributaries after fifty years is phenomenal and I will eventually publish an account of our meeting when this crisis is over. However, having mentioned his visits to the Upper Pool, I asked him about the second picture in this series.
Eric Carpenter explains that T R Way “has drawn the scene from the south side of London Bridge, looking downstream” towards Tower Bridge, and you can see theTower of London on the left, impressive as ever, with warehouses beyond. He can tell from the position of the barges and rowing boats being “tailed up” that the tide is coming in and “that it’s approximately two hours before high water.” He adds ” The wharf in the foreground is Fenning’s wharf, then St. Olaf’s, followed by Chambers wharf.” Further down you can see the Battlebridge roads buoy, where the first boat he worked on, the tug SIR JOHN used to moor. It was good to discover that despite two World Wars and all the destruction along that part of the Thames, some of the features of the riverside are still recognisable today.
Eric was interested to see this image, suggesting that it was a view, perhaps with a little artistic licence, from Wapping looking downstream towards Limehouse, adding that “the church tower in the distance looks similar to St. Anne’s church Limehouse.” As T R Way might possibly have sketched this from a nearby pub, the important subject of riverside pubs took over our conversation and we agreed that when the crisis has abated, The Prospect of Whitby, which is from where Way might have sketched, would be “well worth a visit, as would a number of other riverside pubs too.” I’ll drink to that… Until then, keep well everyone and stay safe.
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.