If you’re looking to take a local stroll over the next few days, you could do it along the Charlton riverside – before it changes forever. Greenwich University landscape architecture student MEREDITH WILL takes us for a walk from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Thames Barrier.
Charlton Riverside is a unique area within London, and it is about to change dramatically. While Charlton residents will probably be aware of the local master plan and large-scale development proposals, the history of the riverfront in Charlton is less well known, and in need of celebrating.
An easterly amble down the two-mile stretch of the Thames Path from Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park to the Thames Barrier provides a fascinating mix of active industry and remnants of the past along the river.
At the ecology park, you can step back in time to experience the river as it was before the 1800s. The wetland habitats have been reconstructed to emulate the environment that although now almost forgotten, once covered the entire Charlton Riverside area. There you can see the kinds of water birds and insects that would have been common before industry took hold. Now a watery urban oasis, visitors can search for snipes, reed warblers, swifts and the many butterflies and dragonflies that thrive in the wildflower meadow.
Following along the Thames Path, around the Greenwich Yacht Club, you come towards Angerstein and Murphy’s Wharves. Angersteim was the first wharf to be developed to the east of Greenwich, opening up the area for all future industry.
It was built in the 1850s by John Angerstein, originally born in Russia to a Germany family, who later settled in Greenwich. Angerstein, like many others at the time, made his fortune in the slave trade, profiteering off the trading of enslaved people in Grenada. Angerstein’s extensive art collection became the basis of The National Gallery. Over time the wharf has been involved in dredging, metal works, glassworks, and aggregates industries.
For the last 30 years both Angerstein and Murphy’s wharves have been home to Day Group Ltd, loading and unloading sea-dredged aggregates and supplying material for London’s ever-expanding construction projects. The works are unmissable as you pass by; the many conveyer belts, corrugated irons shacks and mountains of tarmac are like walking onto the set of Mad Max.
Murphy’s Wharf – originally known as Christie’s Wharf – was built alongside Angerstein in the 1920s for the import and treatment of timber. It was famous for having a concrete pier, instead of the older wooden structures lined along the banks and for the quick unloading time of the dockers who worked there. The pier and cranes remain largely as they were built, but now stand unused and mossy – monuments to the workers and their industry. For the keen eye, the train track linking these wharves to the rail network can still be seen from the line between Charlton and Westcombe Park.
Beyond this lies Cory’s Barge Works. Now Cory Environmental, the company still operates on site, building, maintaining and repairing barges that take domestic waste out of central London. This is probably the only continually-operating boat repair company that has been working on the same site since 1873. Some of the timber sheds may be even older than Cory’s.
Further downstream is Durham Wharf, built in the early 1900s, which once transferred coal and sand into the city along the narrow gauge railway line which can be seen across the yard. Cory’s last used it in the 1970s and since then it has remained untouched.
Next you’ll reach the jewel in the crown, one of London’s best public houses, and a welcome sight for many a sailor, the Anchor and Hope pub, where the community of workmen have been served since Tudor times. The current building was built in 1898, and is a very popular stop-off point for people attempting to cover the whole Thames Path. A winkle shack is just next door if you fancy a salty snack.
If you’ve timed your journey with the low tide, brave the mud and explore the foreshore by going down the steps by the pub. You’ll be rewarded with one of the most important maritime archaeological sites in the country – the remnants of huge Victorian battle ships which were broken up on the foreshore for parts. People have been able to identify what these timbers were used for and which ships they came from. The most famous of these ships was the HMS Duke of Wellington, a first-rate triple-decker flagship, powered by both sail and steam.
A short distance away is the youngest wharf along this stretch, Maybank Wharf, occupied by Westminster Waste. Built in 1966 for transporting paper from it nearby factory, it is no longer in use but is in near-perfect condition. A development from Hyde Housing is set to replace the current buildings with flats and a public park on the jetty.
Next you will come across Riverside Wharf, a striking yellow and red structure which stretches over the Thames Path. This Tarmac plant, as well as Angerstein and Murphy’s wharves, is safeguarded, meaning it has been given special protection by the Mayor of London to prevent their redevelopment.
The final wharf along this walk is the Flint Glass Jetty and Thames Wharf, erected in 1920 by Johnsen and Jorgensen, Swedish cod liver and polar bear traders, for their glass works business. The factory was one of the world’s leading glass works, importing bottles to be made into thermometers and other glass equipment.
Although just short of two miles long, this amble along Charlton Riverside allows walkers to traverse across 200 years of history, from misty marshland through waves of 19th and 20th century industry and into the next chapter of redevelopment. While the developments will inevitably change the industrial character of this area, there’s hope that Charlton’s unique history will not be lost or forgotten. The redevelopment offers an opportunity to re-engage with this history and ensure its legacy is respected.
A group of students from the University of Greenwich are conducting a project on Charlton and the Thames. If you have any stories relating to the Charlton foreshore, industry past or present or anecdotes and memories, please get in touch with us at CharltonForeshoreStories[at]gmail.com.
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