Jeremy Paxman on the Thames

Jeremy Paxman’s Channel 4 programme on the River Thames in his Rivers series seems very short.

The hour goes quickly. It is  a pleasant drift downstream but a lot seems to be missing.

This is because the River Thames is so rich in heritage, beauty and interest that all four programmes in the series could easily have been devoted to just the Thames.

It would be interesting see what was left on the cutting room floor.

It is maybe a pity to make fun of Cricklade’s court leet since it is one of few remaining manorial courts with a serious function. The court officers safeguard one of the most important water meadows in the country.

A pause to talk about the Thames Super Sewer is topical and probably right as the tidal river is not yet clean enough.

Rivers with Jeremy Paxman episode 4 The Thames is available on replay for the next four weeks.

Tattershall Castle to reopen upstream

PS Tattershall Castle below the National Liberal Club

Looking across the river from London’s Jubilee Gardens later this year you might wonder if the Tattershall Castle has moved.

The steamer is at a permanent mooring but the answer will be yes.

The change is to allow for the Tideway Tunnel preliminary works.

The PS Tattershall Castle is about to be relocated  140 yards upstream to be just north of the riverside RAF Memorial.

She will in future be seen framed by the east end of Horse Guards Avenue.

The Tattershall Castle at present can only be reached by using small craft

The steamer, which is now a floating pub, was built in 1934 and worked a route between Kingston upon Hull and New Holland.

After the Second World War she was part of British Rail’s Sealink fleet before coming to London in 1976.

In 2015 her mooring was vacant when she  returned to Hull in 2015 for a refit.

The ship, with two new gangplanks,  will reopen during the summer.

PS Tattershall Castle about to be towed upstream

US Embassy ‘cube’ is the new riverside landmark

US Embassy at Nine Elms

When the riverside path at Nine Elms, just south of Vauxhall, reopens the great landmark will not be Dolphin Square in Pimlico across the water but the new US Embassy.

Later this year the Embassy is relocating from Grosvenor Square in Mayfair to Nine Elms.

The striking design by KieranTimberlake of Philadelphia resembles a crystalline cube.

The last ambassador said farewell on the eve of President Trump’s inauguration and it is expected that the incoming ambassador will present his credentials shortly before the building  opens.

The building will attract lots of attention for an embassy. Taking a snap this week whilst on the diverted Thames Path I was stopped by  a security guard. He wanted to check the photo and know why I wanted to  photograph the new building.

I did not help him. You are free to take a photo from the public highway.

The police advice, known as the Trotter guidelines, is: “There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.”

Battersea update

Battersea Power Station riverside

Recent press reports have given the impression that Battersea Power Station riverfront is now open.

Yes, but there is not yet a through route.

It is still necessary to follow Nine Elms Lane and Battersea Park Road past Battersea Dogs Home and walk through Battersea Park.

However, there is  glimpse of the future. From Battersea Park it is possible to walk under Chelsea Bridge, on a new footbridge over the water, and enjoy the new riverside path each side of Grosvenor Railway Bridge.

But there is still much work to be done before this new path joins upstream Tideway Walk.

Chelsea Bridge from the new path
New pedestrian way under Chelsea Bridge

Temporary Closure: Elm Quay which links St George Wharf at Vauxhall with Tideway Walk next to Battersea Power Station is closed for resurfacing and landscaping. The path is diverted along Nine Elms Lane and on to its south side to pass the new Waitrose .

Elm Quay upstream, or south, of Vauxhall

But the good news is that Waitrose has a cafe and toilets. Lunch today was pork, lentil and kale soup followed by croque monsieur. Coffee is free!

View over Thames from Waitrose cafe

Critically injured man found on Thames Path

Police are appealing for  witnesses after a man was discovered critically injured on the Thames Path alongside Waterloo Bridge.

Officers and the London Ambulance Service found the man in his 20s on the ground at about 8.25pm on Tuesday 17 January.

He has been taken to a central London hospital where he remains in a critical condition.

Anyone who witnessed this incident or has information is asked to call the police on 101 or by tweeting @MetCC. You can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

London Bridge: Blessing the river

This Sunday 8 January sees some seasonal and unusual activity in and around London Bridge.

Southwark Cathedral and St Magnus are the two churches at each end of London Bridge.

Indeed Old London Bridge ran past the St Magnus church door.

The clergy and congregations of the two churches, whose parish boundaries meet on London Bridge, will process to the centre for a the blessing of the Thames ceremony.

The Baptism Sunday ceremony is timed for 12.30pm..

This Thames tradition follows the Orthodox custom of hurling a cross into water as a symbol of Christ’s baptism which is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany in such countries as Greece, Russia and Romania.

In London a wooden cross is dropped from the bridge. As the tide will be falling it is expected that the cross will at first be swept downstream.

A little later at 1.45pm  the Holly Man, the winter guise of the Green Man, will land on Bankside outside Shakespeare’s Globe.  This is part of Twelfth Night celebrations (two days late) which includes a Mummers play on the Thames Path.

Meanwhile Southwark Cathedral offers a rare sight inside: the recast bells are on the ground in the centre of the nave awaiting ‘dressing’, blessing, hoisting and installation in the tower.


Goring: George Michael RIP

The sudden death of George Michael at his home by the millpond in Goring is bringing a sudden influx of visitors.

Many are visiting not just his front door to add flowers but also the nearby church which is dedicated to St Thomas  of Canterbury, better known as Thomas Becket,

This Thursday 29 December is the anniversary of his murder at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 and also his feast day in the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The United Benefice of Goring, Streatley and South Stoke is marking the day with  morning prayer at 9.15am in Goring Church which will be open all day.

HMS President debate in Commons

MPs from five political parties have supported an early-day House of Commons motion to save HMS President, said Julian Lewis MP (Con).

He was opening a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday calling on the government to support the return of the ship to a mooring on the Thames.

She has been familiar sight by the Embankment just west of Blackfriars Bridge and often looked resplendent on royal birthdays when dressed overall.

The vessel is now in Chatham having had to make way for Thames Water Super Sewer works.

Her proposed new mooring, further east but still in the City of London, is in front of St Magnus Church between London Bridge and Old Billingsgate.

Dr Lewis gave the House a good history of the ship and the present dilemma: “Launched in January 1918, HMS Saxifrage, as she was then called, was designed to protect the vital merchant shipping on which our country depended. Crewed by 93 men, she was a Flower-class anti-submarine Q-ship. These sloops were originally intended to be minesweepers, but with the growing threat from submarines they were transferred to convoy escort duties. What makes their tale, and that of HMS President in particular, so historically significant was that they were deliberately configured as bait for U-boats. They were fitted out to look like merchantmen in order to invite attack by submarines on the surface, sometimes when investigating why their first torpedo had failed to finish off a vessel which in reality was packed with hidden buoyancy aids and armed with hidden large-calibre guns.

“At the start of a U-boat attack, “panic parties” would frantically abandon ship while the gun crew stayed out of sight until the submarine came within range. Then, the Q-ship would run up the White Ensign, break out the concealed guns and open fire. It is worth noting the extreme bravery of those who served aboard these ships: they were sitting targets putting their lives on the line for their families, their friends and our ?country. As I have mentioned in this House once before, when the same hazardous technique was tried in world war two it met with disaster, and the Q-ships Cape Howe and Willamette Valley were sunk in June 1940 with considerable loss of life, including the courageous father of my friend Ray Brooks, Stoker Bert Brooks, who served in the Cape Howe’s engine room.

“The President is the last surviving example of this type of vessel, but her work did not end with the Armistice of November 1918. Four years later, she came in from her service on the high seas to find a permanent mooring on the Thames. In the heart of London, her role became that of a Royal Naval Reserve drill ship, and the Saxifrage was renamed HMS President. During the inter-war period she played a crucial role in training our country’s naval personnel, but her combat days were renewed during the Blitz. She was fitted out with anti-aircraft guns and helped to defend some of London’s most famous landmarks, including St Paul’s Cathedral and, of course, the Houses of Parliament. Not only was she protecting London’s skies, but she was fulfilling a more covert function. Her cabins and compartments were secret meeting places for the Special Operations Executive, which planned sabotage and subversion in occupied Europe, and she also served as a headquarters for the French Resistance.

“At the end of world war two, HMS President remained on the Thames and renewed her role as a training vessel. Together with her sister-ship, HMS Chrysanthemum, also moored near Blackfriars Bridge, she was the home of the London division of the Royal Naval Reserve, which was when I first encountered her, as an RNR seaman, in the late 1970s.

“In 1988, her military role finally came to an end. She was taken on by a social enterprise company and became a successful venue for start-up firms and for corporate and charity events. She served as an iconic location for some leading companies, and continued to provide a valuable educational and cultural space for schoolchildren, sea cadets, veterans and members of the public.

“That brings me to her current predicament. From the time she was taken into private ownership in 1988, she was financially self-sustaining. However, in February this year, due to the pending works on London’s super-sewer, she had to leave her moorings on the Embankment. The site was about to become an outflow for the new sewer system and, as such, was no place for an important heritage vessel.

“That caused her to be taken to Chatham docks, very close to the area represented by my hon. Friend the Minister, who may, I trust, pay her a visit if she has not done so already. It is, unfortunately, during HMS President’stime there that her condition has steadily deteriorated—that is no fault of the Minister’s—and the move has meant that she can no longer generate the steady flow of income that previously paid for her upkeep. She is now showing her age: in some areas, the hull is just a few millimetres thick. There is no doubt that her situation is precarious and that restoration work cannot be postponed.

“The HMS President Preservation Trust applied to the Treasury for just under £3 million of LIBOR money. About half of that was to fund the restoration of the ship herself, including the hull, the original deck gun, which will be reinstated if the ship survives, the navigation equipment and so on. The other half was to construct a ?new mooring on the north bank of the Thames, just to the east of London bridge. This mooring would restore HMS President to her rightful home on the Thames, where she had been for more than 90 years. It has been specifically designed to make her even more accessible to the public, ensuring that she can serve for generations to come.”

Kirsten Oswald MP (SNP) said that the  frigate Unicorn, the oldest British-built warship still afloat, brought tourists to Dundee.

She could have added that RSS Discovery, once berthed on the Embankment and seen from the South Bank’s Cornwall Road, is now also a Dundee tourist attraction.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)  assured Dr Lewis that he had the support of Labour Members for his campaign to preserve HMS President.

Culture Minister Tracey Crouch, replying to the debate, said that the HMS President Preservation Trust should continue its discussions with the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Greenwich’s Tudor pier

Low tide at Greenwich is revealing the remains of a Tudor pier in front of the Naval College buildings.

Piles show the outline of a jetty just yards to the west of the Palace of Placentia site.

Henry VIII was born there as were his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. As King, he spent much time there using the Thames as a highway to reach Westminster and Hampton Court.

He might have stood on the pier although the palace had its own watergate.

But Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Samuel Pepys probably did land at the pier.

The wash over recent years from boats and tides has dramatically exposed the piles as well as the 17th-century revetments along today’s wall which holds the narrow path in front of the college buildings.

Brickwork from the line of the Tudor waterfront can be seen on the beach just in front of the western building.

Some of the exposed timbers, especially by the wall, are likely to be covered by stones shortly.

Greenwich waterfront
Greenwich waterfront
Low tide
Low tide
Tudor jetty
Tudor jetty


17th-century revetments
17th-century revetments


Line of Tudor waterfront
Line of Tudor waterfront

Path closed at Barnes

Closed towpath at Barnes Bridge
Closed towpath at Barnes Bridge

There is a temporary towpath closure for works between Barnes Railway Bridge and The White Hart at the start of Mortlake High Street in London.

Walkers must follow the road as far as the pub.

The path improvement is just one of many planned changes in the area.

There is a scheme to turn the upstream side the railway bridge into a ‘garden bridge’. This has the support of councils on both banks and Network Rail. The local claim is that this will not cost very much unlike the one being resisted by City and Waterloo residents in central London.

Just after The White Hart, the towpath runs below the large windows of The Depot restaurant. Next year this will be a Rick Stein restaurant. He recently opened a branch at Sandbanks on the Bournemouth Coast Path.

A few yards further on the path passes over the Mortlake Brewery drawdock. This is where Watney’s Red Barrel was produced and more recently Budweiser. Brewing began in 1700 and ended last December. The riverside site with Victorian buildings is now due to be redeveloped for housing.

The Ship, almost as old as the brewery and  once the University Boat Race finishing post, survives. It is also now a community toilet point.

From the Sea to the Source