The day before the Sheerness trip i spent on the Waverley, sailing or at least steaming along the Thames. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, actually – I thought I would enjoy Tower Bridge, and the mouth of the river and the Medway, but almost everything we passed was interesting.
The buildings along the river are a very varied collection, mixed in with layers of history – as well as the weird company buildings and modern waterfront developments we were constantly passing remains of Victorian and Edwardian docks and wharves and piers. But there’s quite a few Georgian survivals too, scattered along the river.
Almost beside the pier at Tower Bridge is the old City of London Custom House (sadly with a thing like a mutant hoodie towering over it), built in this incarnation in 1814, but existing on almost the same site since the 14th century. According to the man who was doing commentary, it’s very grand on this side to impress visiting foreign captains with the status of London, and very dull and ordinary on the land side!
Round the first big bend in the river and more very modern buildings at Canary Wharf we came to the surviving buildings of the Deptford Victualling Yard, which once provided and stored food not only for ships at its neighbouring dockyard, but for Woolwich, Chatham and Sheerness as well.
Next, at the head of the bend, came Greenwich. Cutty Sark is newer than some of the Victorian survivals, but as she sailed for a living I suppose she has to count as part of the Age of Sail – and she does have lovely rigging. She was all burnt and wrapped up in things when I went to Greenwich years ago!
The Hospital buildings – later the Royal Naval College – are probably the most stunning things to be seen along the river – and, like the Custom House, seem to have been built to be seen from the water. The buildings were built in two sections to allow the Queen’s House behind a view to the river.
The buildings at Greenwich are a good example of the muddle along the London section of the river – the hospital, then a collection of more modern buildings, then an almshouse towered over by an enormous power station.
Back into the longer reaches of the river, and outside of the flood barriers, this clocktower is on the only building surviving from Woolwich Dockyard.
There’s much more left of Woolwich Arsenal, just downriver.
Beyond that the city starts to fizzle out into industrial land and countryside – plus the Dartford Bridge, the docks at Tilbury, bright blue flood defenses at Canvey Island and the endlessly long pier at Southend, but nothing from the right kind of history until the Medway.
This is Sheerness from the sea, with the tower of the old Dockyard Church in the middle.
Sheerness Dockyard was on the river side of Garrison Point, where the Victorian fort is now used as part of the Medway’s navigational control. The dockyard site is under the modern commercial port, and I don’t think there’s much left of the historical buildings.
I did think about going right back up the river, but it would have been dark by the time I got into the interesting parts of London, so I stuck to my original plan of getting off at Gravesend and making my way straight into darkest Kent (there was a bit too much unlighted road involved) ready for the next day’s adventures.