Above: Looking downriver from Fountain Green.
‘These days the Thames is dead’ – were the words of a river-historian when interviewed in a documentary about life working on the Thames below Tower Bridge. Compared with even the 1960s, when large cargo vessels came up the Thames, passed through Tower Bridge and moored beside the wharves just below London Bridge, the statement is so true. The Thames has so little moving traffic to be seen that most days, compared with earlier times when it was a working river – with lighters, tugs, cargo vessels as well as passenger-vessels – the river is lifeless. The only reason Tower Bridge is ever opened is to allow a sailing barge carrying passengers on a dinner cruise to pass through or a visiting liner to moor near London Bridge.
If you were looking at a Motorway that had no cars or lorries passing by, you would think something was wrong. Well, if there is no river traffic to be seen on the Thames, surely that is similarly an odd situation. There are, of course, river-boats carrying sightseers between Westminster Pier or Tower Pier down to Greenwich. There are also the so-called River Buses ferrying passengers between piers, rather like buses moving between bus-stops. It is now a rare sight to see the Thames so filled with vessels that it is hard to see the buildings on its banks. There was a time – in Victorian days – when river-man claimed they could walk across the Thames by hopping from lighter to lighter and also on and off large cargo ships.
The view above looks east from Fountain Green which is in Bermondsey, just a short distance downriver from Tower Bridge. On the far left is the Wapping River Police Station, with their pier at the end of a long walkway so that they can launch their boats at any state of the tide. The picture was taken on a high tide causing the gangway to be almost horizontal. Behind that pier is Tunnel Pier, operated by a company called Wood’s who have a fleet of large river-boats providing functions for private groups and corporate entertaining. One of their large vessels (the white one) is to be seen towards the right of the view. Much further away, at the bend in the river, is Limehouse with the elegant stone tower of St Anne to be seen in the distance, also on the north bank. The church and tower were designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the 18th century.
The river is not particularly busy with river traffic but because of the turns in the Thames at this point, the scene appears busy and gives some impression of how it all looked up to the first part of the 20th century. Today, all the warehouses that still line the river have been converted for use as up-market apartments.