Deptford Plan Lacks Sense of History – David Hilling

In a letter to the Evening Standard published on 7th May 2013 David Hilling, GMI wrote:

In the redevelopment plans for Convoys Wharf in Deptford there seems to be little in the way of vision with respect to what makes places tick.

With Deptford dockyard history and Maritime Greenwich and the birthplace of The Great Eastern nearby one might have expected some recognition of the role of the Thames.  An obvious way would have been to include a modern cruise ship terminal which London sadly lacks.  It seems amazing that the developer, port operator Hutchinson Whampoa, did not think along these lines.

Shivering Sands

 A not inappropriate name for one of the many constantly shifting sandbanks of the Thames estuary but no obvious shivering when viewed by a GMI group on October 7th.

An autumn cruise on the Waverley , the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer, has become a regular feature of the GMI year and from Tower Pier there have been visits to the Medway, Whitstable and this year to the Thames estuary forts.

 In 1942/3 a number of fortified towers were positioned to provide anti-aircraft protection for London and its sea approaches, some towers being controlled by the Navy (Rough Sand, Sunk Head, Tongue Sands and Knock John – each with two towers) and others by the Army (Red Sands, Shivering Sands and Nore – each a cluster of seven towers). Favourable tide conditions allowed Waverley to approach closely the Red Sands, Shivering Sands and Knock John towers giving us close-up views of these fascinating remains.

 Effectively abandoned by government in the late 1950s the towers reflect the ravages of age and damage by ship collision with Nore dismantled as a hazard to shipping and Shivering Sands losing a tower. Several of the towers became homes for pirate radio stations – remember Screaming Lord Sutch? – and one for a time became the Independent Principality of Sealand!

Old Father Thames is far from dead and Waverley provides an unsurpassed picture of the estuary environment, navigation problems, the history and down-river migration of port activity, progress on the new Thames Gateway port project, the variety of shipping and trade and this year a security problem of great historical interest. On the return up river in the warmth of the restaurant an erudite discussion on the origin and distinction between terms such as quay,  wharf, pier, berth and mooring – these GMI students! Altogether an enjoyable social and interesting academic day – why not join us next year?

Text and Image: Dr David Hilling

Legacy for London Waterways?



by David Hilling

For too long Britain has turned its back on water transport but government rhetoric and a wide range of environmental considerations suggest that we should go back to water transport wherever possible.  Mode shift back to water has been recognised with the creation of a Mode Shift Centre by the Freight Transport Association.

As part of a World Heritage Site, its proximity to the National Maritime Museum and the recently restored Cutty Sark and with a view over the Thames , the GMI could hardly be other than concerned with the idea of legacy. It was, of course, a case based on its possible legacy that brought the Olympics to Stratford and Greenwich Park and much is now being made  of this with respect to sporting activities and a transformation of East London based on residential, cultural and commercial developments in the area of the Olympic Park.

But why not a legacy for waterway transport?  Look out of GMI’s windows at the underutilised highway that is the Thames and the few remaining Greenwich peninsula wharves used for freight – does it have to be like this? Every year over 600,000 tonnes of containerised London waste is barged from Wandsworth to an incinerator wharf at Belvedere and Crossrail used barges to move excavated material away from its Canary Wharf station site. In October dredging of Bow Creek will facilitate barge removal of Crossrail tunnel excavated material from Limmo and Instone wharves.

Bow Creek is but the southern end of the Lee Navigation which passes through the Olympic Park to Edmonton (where there is already a waterside incinerator plant), Enfield and on into Hertfordshire – a waterway which stimulated food production and industries for the expanding London market. The new developments proposed for the Olympic Park area will require considerable excavation, vast quantities of aggregates and other building materials and will create land uses which continue to generate waste and recyclables way into the future. There could, indeed should, be a role for water transport in this and the London Legacy Development Corporation is being urged to give it serious consideration and ensure that possible wharf sites and their accessibility are not taken over by land uses for which a waterside location is not a necessary condition.

Dr David Hilling is Research Adviser and Visiting Lecturer in Maritime History at the Greenwich Maritime Institute.  He was a lecturer in Geography at the University of Ghana from 1961-66 and a lecturer and senior lecturer at the University of London (Bedford College and Royal Holloway), until retirement in 1996. He has undertaken consultancy work on African port organisation and the cruise shipping market and destination/port lecturing on cruise ships (Western Mediterranean, Iberia, Atlantic Islands, Western Africa). During his career he has lectured at the Universities of Western Michigan and West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Dr Hilling is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is also UK vice president of the European River Sea Transport Union.

Image by Victoria Carolan

Journal for Maritime Research: New Articles by GMI Staff

GMI Visiting Lecturers Victoria Carolan and James Davey both have articles in the new issue of  the  Journal for Maritime Research Volume 13, Issue 2, 2011 which are now available online.  For a taster here are the abstracts:

Victoria Carolan, ‘The Shipping Forecast and British National Identity’

This article looks at the cultural impact of the shipping forecast issued by the Meteorological Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It has a strange status that is unprecedented for a weather bulletin. The forecast has become engrained as a part of British culture and as a signifier of Englishness. This distinction of British and English is deliberate; this article will suggest that while the forecast covers the whole of the United Kingdom, and has an aesthetic resonance that extends nationwide, the characteristics and opinions that it has been used to represent appear to have been made specifically in respect of Englishness.

The article considers reactions to the change of the sea area named Finisterre before looking at the artistic uses of the forecast. It argues that the cultural importance of the forecast has increased at the same time as its functional, informative role has become virtually redundant. Reactions to the forecast from the 1980s onwards have tended to reflect a crisis in English national identity, jostling for position in the ‘new Europe’ and re-evaluating itself at home in light of the establishment of the Scottish parliament and the national assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland at the end of the 1990s.

James Davey , ‘The advancement of nautical knowledge: the Hydrographical Office, the Royal Navy and the charting of the Baltic Sea, 1795-1815

n 1795, the Hydrographical Office was created to collate nautical charts for the use of the Royal Navy. One of its greatest challenges was to provide reliable charts for fleets sent to the Baltic Sea. The geography of this region was largely unknown to British admirals and policy-makers alike, provoking both operational and strategic issues for the naval administration. Faced with economic threats to its sources of shipbuilding resources during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy was ordered into the Baltic on three occasions. On each occasion its operational viability was determined by the degree to which it could navigate the waters of the Baltic safely. This article traces the success with which Britain was able to come to terms with an environment of which it was ignorant in 1795. In the years immediately after 1795, charts of the Baltic were inaccurate and unreliable. However, repeated incursions into the Baltic during the following 20 years provided an opportunity to gather hydrographical information. British understanding of the Baltic Sea improved dramatically, opening the region to the potency of British naval power. The advancement of maritime knowledge required seamanship and navigational skill in the Baltic, but also an effective administration in London to collect information and retain it for future needs. This article therefore outlines a broad understanding of ‘sea power’ based not just on physical might, leadership and tactics, but on administration and the retention and dissemination of knowledge. This is understood in a context of increasing state engagement with British geography as a strategic tool, as witnessed also by the Ordnance Survey. The development of surveying in this period also tells us much about the ‘quantifying spirit’ of the late eighteenth century, and how such impulses were writ large on the political and strategic world.