Guest Post Part 2: The Thames Path from Woolwich Pier to Tower Bridge

Part 2 of a set of guest posts from Paul Billington who has walked the Thames path capturing ongoing changes in the area. This week continuing from Woolwich to Charlton.

It is not just buildings which continue to change, it is infrastructure too. The Woolwich Free Ferry, a pedestrian and vehicle ferry that connects Woolwich to North Woolwich has seen new ferries.

The three former vessels – two of which can be seen in the second picture from last May, the James Newman and John Burns – were built in 1963 by Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Dundee. They ceased operation on 5 October 2018 to be replaced by two new diesel electric hybrid propulsion vessels, the Ben Woollacott and the Dame Vera Lynn, from the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk, Poland using a new magnetic docking system.

The third photo also shows Ye Olde Blackfriars Millennium Pier which has been slowly moving down the river since it was decommissioned back in October 2016, after Blackfriars Pier moved 250m downstream from its old location because of works on the Thames Tideway Tunnel. It is now located at Woolwich and can be seen alongside the Dame Vera Lynn vessel.

The old King Henry VIII dry docks (2 and 3 Dock), originally timber built, were rebuilt between 1838-1843 to designs of Walker & Burgess and are the earliest extant dry docks associated with the steam navy. These later became in use as the South-East London Aquatic Centre in 1979, first mooted in 1972 when John Cartwright, the then leader of Greenwich Council, announced the aquatic centre plans. However, it had laid derelict for a number of years.

The first three pictures were taken back in 2014, showing the buildings as they were before being demolished. When I returned back near the site in 2018, it was now reduced to rubble and not much has since changed since, apart from the addition of a sunbather in the last picture.

You often meet some interesting and diverse people along the path; plenty of cyclists, pedestrians, groups walking mainly from Tower Bridge to Woolwich. On this occasion, a painter doing a wonderful study of the Tate & Lyle works across the other side of the River Thames in Silvertown.

I was a tad disappointed last year when the supposed new “Quietway 14” cycle link was due to have opened last May, but fell ightly behind schedule. Last year, I had to head back from this point, go through the housing development adjacent to the path and along the busy Woolwich Road to reach the Thames Barrier, then rejoin the Thames Path. Yes, quite a nuisance. Especially when I used it for the first time ever in 2014; I inadvertently managed up in someone’s backyard!

It was a tad confusing and a bit like a maze if you did not know the area.
Quietway 14 is a cycling route that goes from Blackfriars Road to Canada Water station but is planned to extend all the way to Bexley, so eventually all the dots will join up. As it was, it is fully open, so let’s have a look…

The structure is very much needed and helps avert the sections at Charlton that this “Missing Link” caused for a number of years. With ramps at a gentle incline for pedestrians and cyclists, it is a godsend to those who use the Thames Path.

It also acts a rather quaint viewing platform area where you can now get closer to the River Iris – from the River Mersey – (if you are from the Liverpool area, avert your gaze briefly, as you may find the above scene distressing) that continues to rot away at the side of the Thames here, as well as across to the Tate & Lyle sugar refinery, back up towards Woolwich. The car spares place next door, less so.

The Liverpudlians amongst us can now look back. As you turn right from the ramp, you enter the Mellish Industrial Estate and this is quite a wonderful, interesting new addition to the Thames Path. If you like looking at architecture of a bygone age- like myself – you’ll be in your element.

The first photo is the 1890’s, Telegraph Building, which is now home to various artist’s studios, the second is a door entrance that forms part of the cable shop, erected in 1937.

These buildings down the lower part of Bowater Road are just charming, even in their current run- down state and are part of the original former Siemens Brothers buildings who had a presence in the Woolwich area since 1863. The first picture is of the junction box building that dates back to 1925-6 and the second picture shows the oldest set of buildings on site, dating back to 1871-1873, the nearest set of six windows date back to 1894.

Not only serving to remind you where you are, but a sign of yesteryear of who you’re with. Well, until Barclays snapped them up anyway….

After the exciting offerings of the new section, it leads you to a lovely garden area and up the slight hill and stairs, the open area to your right extends back to the visitor centre. You can see a 360 degree capture of mine at this area here taken in 2016.

To the left of the walkway, there is a map along the concrete section showing the full length of the River Thames, with various places and towns along the way and river level measurements when the barrier is closed at each point. At the beginning of this walkway, it denotes the start of the main Thames Path National Trail. This leads you to a point where you can look closely at the Barrier itself. I have grown quite an affection for barrier number 9….

From this point for a good old stretch of the Thames Path, you get a great flavour of the local industry aspects that still occur in the Charlton area, one of the last significant areas of industry along the river. The picture of the go karting offering, not only because it adds a lovely splash of colour against the factory facades, might not be here between now and the year 2029. Developers have plans to turn it and around it into homes and commercial space. Although one wonders what they will think of their neighbour, they won’t be able to miss it I’ll say that….

….the Tarmac asphalt plant in Charlton adding a splash of colour to their structures. A lovely use of them too, very colour coordinated and makes a nice change.

The riverside hopper picture on Ballast Wharf was taken in 2016 and has not changed, the plant taken in May 2019. Predominately used as storage for aggregates for the manufacturer of road coating materials, it is able to offload to riverside receiving hopper, which is transferred via conveyors to stockpile bays.

Part 1 can be seen here.

Part 3 coming soon.



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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post Part 2: The Thames Path from Woolwich Pier to Tower Bridge

  • Thank you Paul for another very interesting post. Looking forward to part 3.

  • Same here, a pleasure to read


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