The Capital Ring – Woolwich to Shooter’s Hill Part One

Dear Readers, we started this week’s walk from Woolwich Elizabeth Line station, the scene of our transport debacle last week. Where are all the people, though? At one point we were the only people walking from the Northern Line to the Elizabeth Line at Liverpool Street Station, and very eerie it was too. Maybe half the population of London is in a certain queue starting in Southwark and wending its weary way for twenty-four hours to the Palace of Westminster.

We walk through the Woolwich Arsenal, where there is a fine array of cannons (including the 18th-Century cannon with wings shown above – it comes originally from Saxony and was no doubt captured in some battle or other). This is not surprising as the site was a munitions factory and shipyard from Tudor times, and until very recently had an interesting museum called Firepower explaining the past of the historic buildings. Alas this is now permanently closed, with a new site planned for Salisbury Plain.

Still, there are a variety of weapons of war dotted about (though clearly you aren’t allowed to interfere with them, so I was unable to have a Cher moment). Probably just as well.

And if all the cannon weren’t enough, they’ve even found a use for some of the cannonballs.

Well, we’ve been walking for at least ten minutes so it’s clearly time for a coffee. We found a very nice place next to these statues, which have a very Anthony Gormley-esque feel to them. Actually, the piece is called ‘Assembly’ and it’s by sculptor Peter Burke.

Just around the corner is a collection of concrete slabs which turn out to be engine blocks, probably from some piece of long-disappeared industrial machinery.Ā  What caught my eye was the warning sign on them. A Focal Historic Artifact!!! Lord have mercy.

And then we head back along the Thames. Look at this view. There’s Canary Wharf in the background, and the Thames Flood Barrier in front. I’m sure that if a Tudor shipbuilder was dropped here, he wouldn’t believe his eyes.

As per usual there’s some new building going on (Luxury Flats!) so we have to detour from the river, but for once we don’t get either lost or nearly mown down by a passing cyclist. We pass some people angling in what were once the dry docks for the Royal Naval Dockyard (again from the 18th-Century), but which have now been stocked with fish.

Some people were also angling in the Thames itself. Bearing in mind the endless discharges of sewage into rivers up and down the country I’m not sure I’d be keen on eating anything that came out of the Thames at the moment, although the river has been getting cleaner for years. Also, I was taught to be quiet when tiptoeing past anglers, but this lot had brought their own sound system. Clearly, Thames fish are hard of hearing.

Further up, we passed this rather sad little mosaic which has clearly seen better days. Elfrida Rathbone (1871 – 1940) was a kindergarten teacher who taught children who were considered ‘incapable of learning’. Along with her cousin, Linda Gregg, she demonstrated that given the right education, many children could thrive and could learn to read and write. The charity that she founded still exists to help children and young people with learning difficulties.

Further up, there are a few more cannon to entertain my husband….

And some weeds to entertain me. Ragwort and Canadian Fleabane, anybody?

And honestly, where would we be without buddleia? It’s everywhere, in every shade of purple, lilac and white.

Then we have to skip up this rather fancy staircase (with husband in the photo Yet Again)….

…to get a slightly closer view of the Thames Barrier….

There it is!

…before we are diverted via ‘Charlton Riverside’. This is a seriously atmospheric spot – the old factories are still standing, including the old Siemens factory where transatlantic telephone cables were built in the 1880s. Siemens also contributed to the PLUTO project in World War II, where an oil pipeline was constructed under the English Channel to bring much needed supplies to the UK. The factory closed in 1968, but you can get a sense of how big an operation this, and the other factories here, would have been, and how many people they would have employed.

Some 7000 homes are going to be built here. I’m not clear how many will be conversions of the old factory buildings, and how many will be new builds.

I rather love that this factory is now home to a first-floor martial arts centre.

And then, we are meant to turn inland, but we are much too close to the Thames Barrier not to have a close look. This engineering marvel protects central London against a storm surge, and the barrier is raised if a combination of high tides in the North Sea and river levels at Teddington indicate that water levels would exceed 16 feet in the centre of the capital. It took ten years to build, and cost the equivalent of Ā£1.23 billion. It may well need to be modified due to the increased risk of catastrophic weather events due to climate change. I have never seen it actually raised, and frustratingly that’s going to happen next week when I will be off on an adventure (of which more soon).

The Thames Barrier Park has all sorts of bits of engineering equipment from the building of the Barrier.

And then, we climb a flight of stairs, and there it is, glinting in the sunshine.

You can get a better idea of it from this photograph of the barrier raised. It’s 520 metres wide, and manages to hold back all that water. Let’s hope that it continues to perform its function for many years to come. I do wonder, though, what happens to all the water that doesn’t end up flooding central London. I’m not sure that I’d want to be living in Thamesmead, or indeed in the new Charlton development.

The Thames Barrier (raised) – Photo from the Environment Agency

And so, from here we track inland. But more of that tomorrow…..

4 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Woolwich to Shooter’s Hill Part One

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    I took a group of schoolgirls to the Barrier, in the 90s I guess, as part of an end of year activity. Fascinating for me, not sure about them.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Ah, you might need to wait a week or so as we only got to the crossroads this week šŸ™‚ But we will definitely be walking Shooter’s Hill next time…


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