I spent a day in London on my way to the far south last month – partly to go back to Chatham before my ticket ran out, which I didn’t manage (for reasons that will only frustrate me to think about), but I did manage to make it to Greenwich, my other objective, walking along the river from the hostel at Rotherhithe.
The one thing that I do still like about London – having fallen out with the underground, originally the only thing I liked – is the way that little bits of history lie hidden, although around Canada Water they were mainly Victorian. A bit further along the river this little park seemed quite aware of its nautical heritage!
Surrey Docks Farm was a surprise to me – I wasn’t really expecting to meet ducks and goats on my travels. The farm turned out to be on the site of an 19th century dockyard, building ships including HMS Carcass, from which a young Nelson met a polar bear.
Beyond that the path left the river to bypass building works – a friend who is collecting nautical pub names has got me at it too, but I did like the very vivid sign on this one.
Back by the river, I found myself walking past a late
Georgian boundary stone, marking the change from St Mary’s Rotherhithe to St Paul’s Deptford, and originally from Surrey to Kent.
Once over the Deptford boundary I was in among the surviving older docks – the current Greenland Dock is the oldest on the river, originally built as the Great Howland Dock just before 1700, although greatly enlarged and rebuilt 200 years later. In the 18th century it was heavily used by Greenland whaling ships, giving it its current name.
The neighbouring South Dock was originally the Georgian East Country Dock, built around 1810.
Deptford was one of the oldest of the Royal dockyards, founded in 1513 – by the early 18th century it was beginning to be used less as the bigger ships of the day found it more difficult to get so far up the river, but it was still active through the Napoleonic wars, and the neighbouring Victualling yard was going strong for many years afterwards.
The surviving buildings are from the victualling yard, with the main dockyard site inaccessible (and sending the Thames path back on a confusing route inland), but one historic location, at least, does survive – the site of the steps where Drake was knighted by Elizabeth I after circumnavigating the world.
A surviving row of late 18th century officers’ houses lines one side of a square just back from the river.
Along the river front are the two great waterfront storehouses, and their associated offices – I love the Georgian doors and windows.