Rotherhithe in winter

Southwark marks the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity not with a service or talk but an ecumenical walk.

It was a pleasure to join in visiting first St Hugh’s, Guy’s Chapel and La Salette Church near London Bridge. After walking along the river, and looking for the seal as we crossed St Saviour’s Dock, we were received at Dockhead Convent in Parker Row.

Here we saw its permanent exhibition about the convent, Dockhead and the sisters’ work with Florence Nightingale.

January is deep winter with no tourists so the landlord at The Angel was away. The temporary staff did a splendid job in producing fish and chips at short notice. The pub, where Whistler sketched the river from the back, is at the start of Bermondsey Wall West and a good place for lunch now that Surrey Docks Farm has closed its cafe.

We ended in Rotherhithe where Fr Mark Nicholls showed us round St Mary’s Church and pointed out that we had to climb steps because the floor is above flood level. This year is the 700th anniversary of the appointment of his predecessor, the first rector.

See page 25.

Van Gogh and the Thames

I sometimes mention Vincent Van Gogh teaching at Isleworth although this was only for  a short time.

The Real Van Gogh exhibition opening at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday reminds us that the artist knew the river downstream at Lambeth and Westminster much better.

On display is a letter written in Paris in 1875 where he writes: “I crossed Westminster Bridge every morning and evening and know what it looks like when the sun’s setting behind Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and what it’s like early in the morning, and in winter with snow and fog.”

He was recalling the previous year when he had spent twelve menths crossing the bridge daily on his way to work at an art dealer in Southampton Street off the Strand.

Van Gogh was living at first in Brixton and then in Kennington Road from where it was a short walk up Westminster Bridge Road.

In 1876 he was back in England teaching at Isleworth for a few months. In November he preached at Petersham Methodist Church which he sketched.

The exhibition’s full title is The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters so there are none of his English paintings as these do not feature in his letters. But this is a major show. I have never seen so many people at an RA press view.

There was even a media frenzy around his self portrait when members of the Van Gogh family appeared.

The souvenir shop is fun with mugs, bags, fridge magnets, trays and Oyster card wallets.

The exhibition runs daily from Saturday 23 January to Sunday 18 April.

Lock keepers to stay on site

Good news this week for lock keepers on the Thames which is good news for all of us who care about the river.

Over twenty lock keepers and their families will keep their riverside accommodation thanks to a deal negotiated by UNISON. Last May the Environment Agency had planned to sell the cottages.

“Having lock keepers living close to the water also means they can be first line of defence in case of flooding” says UNISON regional organiser Jeanette Roe.

“For the lock and weir keepers and their families, this is the news they have been waiting for.

“They have been on tenterhooks, facing the prospect of uprooting their families from homes they have lived in for up to thirty years. Now they can start the New Year knowing they can stay in their homes.

“The deal also gives lock and weir keepers improved job profiles and formal arrangements for their standby and call out duties.”

The plan to let the cottages as holiday homes was opposed by many including Reading MP and keen angler Martin Salter.

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