London Group 2
This group is led by Alan Potts.
When the weather permits, which is generally 10 months of the year, we prefer to walk in the London boroughs on the 2nd Wednesday of the month. In the winter months, instead of travelling to London, we meet between 10,00 am and 12.00 am. where we discuss various historical aspects of London and plan future visits.
Royal Docks – City Airport –Thames Barrier – Woolwich Ferry – Woolwich Arsenal
The walk started in The Royal Victoria Dock at the base of the Emirates Air Line cable car and we headed east along the side of the dock towards the ExCel London building.
There are a number of sculptured artworks in London’s Royal Docks as part of a world class sculpture trail called The Line, featuring work from distinguished contemporary artists. We all posed under “ Vulcan” by Eduardo Paolozzi..
Our coffee stop was in the Good Hotel, a floating hotel in the dock. Good Hotel has a unique social business concept – combining business with training unemployed locals, stimulating local business and funding education of children in South America.
The ExCel Centre exhibition space occupies 100 acres and opened in 2000. During the London Olympics it hosted boxing, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling.
Crossing over the dock via an elevated bridge gave us a view over the docks , airport, and The Thames, with the O2 arena, Canary Wharf and London skyline in the distance. This spectacular high level footbridge was opened in 1998, designed to resemble the great ships that once filled the now empty dock with huge redundant cranes around the sides.
Walking towards Silvertown and the Thames we passed the vast empty shell of Millennium Mills, a former flour mill and granary built in 1930’s by millers W.Vernon & Son and Spillers. The location was perfect for the grain ships to unload, but this ended in the 1980s with the closure of the Royal Docks.
Silvertown - In 1852, before the Royal Docks were opened, Samuel Winkworth Silver moved his factory to this site. The company S. W. Silver & Co, which produced rubber cable covering grew rapidly, eventually employing 2,800 workers in a factory of 15 acres .By 1859 the area was known as Silvertown.
We next came to the site of the Silvertown TNT Memorial to the 73 workers killed in 1917 in an explosion at the Brunner-Mond & Co munitions factory. The other casualties were 328 injured and around 600 with cuts and bruises,17 acres of warehouses destroyed, nearly 1000 homes rendered uninhabitable and another 60,000 were damaged in some way. The explosion could be heard 100 miles away and is still the largest in London’s history.
Not far from the memorial and Pontoon Dock DLR is Thames Barrier Park, landscaped from a de-contaminated brownfield site, offering views of the flood defences which were landscaped by French architect Alain Provost. The park’s most photographed feature is the Green Dock, a 5 metre deep sunken garden cutting across the site. The canal-like Green Dock ripples with undulating topiary.
Taking the bus from Pontoon Dock to the Woolwich Free Ferry we passed by the 12 metre high “Athena” sculpture, by Nasser Azam, outside London City Airport, the tallest bronze sculpture in UK. London Athena faces east towards the airport with her head looking up to the sky and arms outstretched.
We also passed by the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery set up by Henry Tate (whose art collection helped establish Tate Britain) in 1878 producing the original white sugar cube. Abraham Lyle’s original factory, home of Golden Syrup, is further west at Plaistow and opened in the 1880s. The businesses merged in 1921.
At North Woolwich, a rare example of a single district separated by the Thames, we boarded the Woolwich Free Ferry (1889). There is also a foot tunnel under the Thames (1912). These crossings were to assist workers in south London in reaching the factories and docks on the north bank.
Woolwich was a small Kentish fishing village when Henry VIII built a Royal Navy Dockyard there in 1512. This operated until1869 by which time the Navy ships were too large to sail this far up the Thames. Woolwich has a centuries old association with Britain’s army and navy with the Royal Arsenal, the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Artillery. During WW1 the Royal Arsenal buildings extended over 1300 acres and employed 80,000 people.
The Arsenal football club was founded by the site workers1886, entered the professional league in 1893, and later moved to north London as The Gunners.
The grounds, workshops and stores have all been put to use as housing, offices, restaurants, garages, theatre workshops and museums.
Outside the Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum is “Assembly” a group of 16 cast iron figures by Peter Burke.
We returned via DLR from Woolwich Arsenal station. In future Woolwich will have a Crossrail station.