London's Rivers

Photographs by Peter Marshall

River Lea
the Docklands Light Railway, Lower Lea Crossing

DLR crossing the Lea

The Docklands Light Railway, a rare recent addition to public transport in London, was part of a scheme to develop the derelict docklands areas to the east of London. Conceived on a grandiose scale, the scheme ignored local needs in favour of commercial development. Many personal fortunes were made, particularly by foreign developers, often with relatively little gain in return. Its most obvious monument is Canary Wharf. From Bank and the Tower, the DLR has branches to Island Gardens (opposite Greenwich, and currently being extended towards Lewisham), Stratford and Beckton. This picture taken during construction of the Beckton branch, shows its elevated track sweeping across the meander of the River Lea at Canning Town. In the mist at the right of the panorama is the new road crossing of the same river further along its S shaped curve.
Cranes at Royal Docks (closed) River Thames
Royal Docks (closed)
Increasing containerization and the growth of ports downriver at Tilbury and elsewhere on the coast led to a rapid decline in London's Docks in the 1970's. The Royal Group - Royal Victoria(1855), Royal Albert(1880) and King George V Docks(1921) had an area of 245 acres and were the largest connected area of impounded dock in the world. They were the first really modern docks in London, built for steam ships and using hydraulic machinery, served by railways - vital as they were 4 miles from the centre of the city. The Royal Albert was the first major enterprise to be lit by electricity.
Royal Albert Dock River Thames
Royal Albert Dock (closed)
The Royal Albert Dock is three quarters of a mile long which gives plenty of space for practicing your rowing, and it was made available for this purpose for those training for the Olympics among others. The quayside area between the Royal Albert and King George V Docks has now been cleared to make a runway for London's fourth airport, London City Airport. Its use is limited to relatively small aircraft designed for short takeoff and landing (STOL) and it gives a fast route for City businessmen (and increasingly now businesswomen) heading for meetings in other European capitals.
Thames - view towards Tilbury River Thames
Tilbury Power Station
Further downstream, well outside of London, the river still retains much of its industrial character. Tilbury Power Station, a mile or so downstream of London's remaining working docks, was still a working power station. Some at least of the jetties and piers are still in use and pipes still carry liquids ashore or to ship. The river is still important for business as well as pleasure, and often busy.
Fort at Cliffe, Kent River Thames
Cliffe, Kent - disused riverside fortification
A ship heading for Tilbury passes the fort at Cliffe, built in response to the threat of French Invasion during the Napoleonic era. There are similar forts along the river, including a much older, more elegant and important structure at Tilbury, where guns were last fired against British ships during the Mutiny of the Nore in 1797. The low-lying shoreline marshes at Cliffe were thought so unhealthy that the soldiery camped out in Cliffe village, half an hour's march away, with only a watch of two in the fort, one of whom would run to the village if necessary to summon help. The path along which a youth is riding a moped is part of the Saxon Shore Way, a long distance path from Gravesend around the coast of Kent to Rye in Sussex.
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©Peter Marshall 1997

These pictures are part of a large collection taken since 1980 by Peter Marshall.
Please email him if you would like to make use of them in any way or buy copies.
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