Saturday, March 15, 2014

Brunel Sculputre unveiling on 23rd March 2014 - everyone welcome

From Steve Cornish:

Copyright: Brunel Statue Group
The 'Brunel Statue Group' welcome all, for the unveiling of their (1st phase) 'BRUNEL' Letters Sculpture.
(see photos attached)

Website :

Date and time : Sunday 23rd March 2014 at mid-day.

Location: Brunel Road, left hand side of Rotherhithe Tunnel Approach, (Southwark, Thames Southside)

Funded by : Southwark Councils 'Cleaner Greener Safer' Fund.

The two metre high forged steel letters have been crafted by Local Blacksmith, Kevin Boys and his apprentices at their forge in Surrey Docks Farm.

Individual 'hot carved' plates have also been designed & created, by pupils from the local, Bacons School.
Their plates have been incorporated into the letters sculpture as part of their schools, science and engineering programme.

The 'Letters Signage' will be the first phase of our vision to erect a 15mtr Statue commemorating -
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the" Greatest British Engineer of all time" Just a stones throw away from the first tunnel ever to be built under a navigable river in the world ' The Thames Tunnel' and the Brunel Museum.

Please come along to witness the Brunel Gateway to Rotherhithe for yourself. Refreshment and entertainment will be provided.

Brunel Statue Group.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Help needed: update on nesting pontoons at Greenland Dock and Surrey Water

 From Steve Cornish:

Cygnet on nesting material provided by local
residents last year.
Hello All
Help needed!  The Friends of Russia Dock Woodland and Friends of Stave Hill Eco Park will be distributing much needed nesting material (last year's bullrushes and reeds) into Surrey Water and Greenland Dock tomorrow (Saturday 15th March at mid-day)

We do this every year, generally around mid April, but due to the very mild winter and recent hot weather, the waterfowl are nesting and even laying eggs in mid March.

We have plenty of reeds and bulrushes already cut and ready to be barrowed down to both docks. The nesting pontoons have recently been secured in Surrey Water and some also in Greenland Dock.

Now the swans, grebes, coots, moorhens, ducks & geese are in desperate need of nesting material.

We will be meeting at Stave Hill,  at the top of Dock Hill Avenue, at mid-day. We will walk over to Stave Hill Eco Park and collect the nesting material, then wheel-barrow several loads of reeds and bulrushes down to Greenland Dock and Surrey Water. The whole exercise should take no longer than 2 hours.

Steve Cornish
Friends of Russia Dock Woodland

Monday, March 10, 2014

New website re Harmsworth Quays developments

Thanks to @kmarkparker on Twitter for this link to a new website, currently under construction, which will contain information about the Harmsworth Quays site, the consultation process, plans for its future, and upcoming information exhibitions:  At the moment the site consists of a single page, but it does contain details of launch events at the end of March and during April.  Well worth keeping an eye on, if you're interested in how the site is going to be developed and what sort of impact this will have on local residents and our infrastructure.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A tour around the former Harmsworth Quays print works, Rotherhithe

Harmsworth Quays
Harmsworth Quays was closed down by its owners, the Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), when they moved their operations to Thurrock (Essex), but the building remained, a big green local landmark, something of a blot on the landscape, but one that predates most of the residential development in Rotherhithe.  When it opened it was a state of the art printing works.

Harmswoth Quays was built in 1989 and the site covers 12 acres.  Now bereft of personnel, furniture and most of its machinery, it has become a rather marvelous piece of industrial archaeology.  Its fate is, of course, inevitable.  The Daily Mail sold the leasehold on the land to British Land (Southwark Council own the freehold) and they are planning to develop it for more building projects, the precise nature of which has yet to be nailed down.  I will be talking more about the future of the site in later posts.

For anyone who has been reading my earlier posts about the development of the docks in Rotherhithe, Harmsworth Quays sits on what used to be Centre Pond, one of the timber ponds established by the Grand Surrey Dock and Canal Company when they established Albion Dock and a number of other timber ponds, all up and running by 1862.  For more information see my earlier post about the development of this area of Rotherhithe's docks and ponds.

British Land, who now own the property (and own Surrey Quays Shopping Centre), arranged for guided tours of the former works today, which was a really super opportunity for anyone interested in local history.  I was booked into the 2pm tour, and thundered back from Gloucester this morning along the M4 to be on time to get there, camera in hand, to pick up my name badge and read the information boards.  The boards were full of useful information (about which more in future posts) and there were a lot of people there reading them.  Representatives from the Southwark-based urban planning practice Allies and Morrison were there to chat to visitors, and did a good job of answering questions and explaining how various different local development projects fit together under Southwark Council's general planning umbrella.  

Paper racks
From there, we were taken in groups around the print works.  Utterly fascinating, and thanks to Larry our guide (who was an engineer there when it was all up and running) for taking us around.   You can click on any of the photographs to see the bigger version.

The walk through the building from the meeting room to the first area on the itinerary made me very glad for the recommendation in the joining instructions for sensible shoes - much of the elevated walkways were open metal grids, and flat shoes were a must.   We wended our way through various corridors and tall machine rooms until we reached a vast cavernous cathedral of metalwork soaring up and plunging down from where we stood.   This eerily silent extravaganza of industrial excellence and abstract art was the place where the paper was received in 1.6 ton rolls, 336 per day.   The crazy metal structure was a seemingly endless system of racks onto which the the paper was lifted by an automated mechanism.  Apparently a James Bond movie was filmed there, Tomorrow Never Dies.  It was so thoroughly magnificent that it was quite difficult to be dragged away, and a lot of people stood on the raised walkway staring out into the surrealistic chiaroscuro. 

Print room, with printers at the far end
From there we followed our guide to the printing machines themselves, again walking through long corridors which were once thundering away with machinery and personnel.  The printing presses are quite simply impossible to describe.  I have no idea what I thought they would be like, but I think I was imagining something the size of a small room, and not the vision before me, which consisted of machinery that  reaches up to the ceiling three storeys away.  Some of the printers were removed when the Daily Mail left, and others were purloined for their parts, but some remain complete and will have to be dismantled before the building is pulled down.  The scale of the thing was simply staggering. 

Next on the tour was the room in which all those infuriating inserts, advertising brochures, scratch cards, and promises of eternal happiness were added to the newspapers.  Now a vast void with huge red caterpillars running along the ceilings this was apparently once stuffed full of bodies hard at work in a windowless warehouse-sized room.  The red caterpillars were used for providing fresh air, and heaters were built into the ceiling.  Everywhere we went in Harmsworth Quays it was important to keep looking up because the network of pipes and cables, air vents and funnels were tremendous.  It becomes so obvious why the Pompidou Centre in Paris put their internal workings on the outside.

Set for Chasing Shadows
Before making our way to the final leg of the tour, we passed through part of the building that is being used as a television set for a new police series called Chasing Shadows.  It has been set up as a set of offices, both open plan and private, which acts as the operational base of a special unit dedicated to tracking down serial killers who prey on vulnerable people.  You can see a write up of it on the ITV website.  The photo on the left shows part of the set, with a police coat hanging on a hook and general chaos all around.  The sheer level of office chaos was actually quite impressive - I've never worked in one quite that bad!   Earlier on, where the printing machinery is located, another set consisting of some battered armchairs and a lot of graffiti (shown at the very end of this post) formed another part of the TV location, and it was so odd to see it all sitting there alongside the vast industrial hardware.

Loading bay
We made our way to another warehouse-sized room in which the newspapers, the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and Metro, were loaded onto lorries.  Like any distribution hub, one wall consisted of a series of shuttered exits to which the lorries backed up for loading.  The Evening Standard alone shipped 600,000 issues a day from that room.   There was a huge digital display, which was happily feeding completely random symbols into the room.  Heaven knows what information it once showed.

The building is extraordinary.  I spent a lot of time a decade or so ago visiting freight hubs, and these were always fairly relentless in terms of functionality taking priority over any alleviating flourishes, but Harmsworth Quays takes that to new levels, with acres of open-mesh metal walkway and staircases, tiny corridors between machines, and vast ceilings that are an incredible maze of heaven-knows-what.  The floor space, now clear, is simply endless, and the sense of emptiness and lifelessness quite extraordinary and somewhat eerie.  There is always a certain sort of desolation about an abandoned building, but this one was particularly strange because it was still full of light and so very clean! 

As I hammered down the M4 today I kept clock-watching and I am so glad that I got there on time.  Thanks again to the organizers.  I enjoyed it enormously.   

The following are a random set of other photographs that I took today.

Office door with a smiley face fingered into
the dust on the glass. It so made me smile.

Printer - a bit bigger than my Canon desktop job!


Paper racks

Print works room


Printing presses

Chasing Shadows set

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The establishment of Canada Dock by the Surrey Commercial Dock Company in 1875

Canada Dock under construction 1875-6
After the amalgamation of the Grand Surrey Dock and Canal System and the Commercial Dock Company, to make up the Surrey Commercial Dock Company, various additions were made to the system, but the only major new investments were the construction of Canada Dock in 1875, which was completed in 1876, and the extension of Greenland Dock in the last years of the 19th Century.

Canada Dock was established specifically to handle the larger iron vessels and their cargo.  Engineer James Adair McConnochie, who had been appointed Resident Engineer to the Surrey Commercial Dock Company in 1865, was chief engineer on the project.  McConnochie was a successful engineer who worked in a number of British docks and was also responsible for attractive dockside architecture like the Surrey Docks Office opposite Canada Water tube station.  The dock was established on the last segment of land at the base of the peninsula, and was right up against both existing buildings along Lower Road and the immovable presence of the East London Railway.  McConnochie's main challenge was to resolve problems caused by the close proximity of the East London Railway, which was semi-subterranean and could have been under threat from both subsidence and leakage from the dock, had measures not been taken to prevent it.   As a result, Canada Dock was equipped with vast concrete walls.  It also has a slightly curved shape, which reflects that its upper part had to be built along the line of the railway.

The Michael Rizzello sculpture on Stave Hill showing the
docks as they were in 1896 before the extension of Greenland Dock. 
On the far left is Canada Dock with the slight kink
in its shape, together with the remaining ponds. 
Canada Dock replaced Albion Pond and most of Canada Pond, but Quebec Pond and Centre Pond were retained to its east.  Canada Dock was connected to Albion Dock, and from there it was linked into the rest of the network.  The original cut from Albion Dock into Albion Pond was too small to be suitable for the new, larger ships that Canada Dock was built to handle, so this was closed at its southern end and converted into a small dry dock.  A new entrance, wider and longer, was established to its west.  Canada Dock was also connected to Canada Pond, which was in turn connected to Quebec Pond and from there to Centre Pond into Russia Dock and the Grand Surrey Canal.  

Due to the new entrance (or "cut") between Canada Dock and the older part of the system, the old cut became redundant and was turned into a small dry dock for the repair and maintenance of barges and lighters.  This was unearthed in 2016, during construction work at the sit.  The dry dock has been named locally Albion Dry Dock and has been covered on a post of its own, here. The dry dock can be seen in the photograph at the very bottom of this page.

A contemporary account from 1878 was provided by Edward Walford (Rotherhithe. Old and New London; Volume 6, pages 134-142):  

"The Commercial Docks have an entrance from the Thames, between Randall's Rents and Dog and-Duck Stairs, nearly opposite the King's Arms Stairs in the Isle of Dogs. They are the property of the Surrey Commercial Dock Company. A considerable extension of their area has been made within the last few years, with a view to meeting the increased requirements of the timber trade in the port of London, by the addition of a new dock which has been named the Canada Dock. It is 1,500 feet in length, 500 feet in width, and has a water area of sixteen acres and a half. It communicates with the Albion Dock by an entrance fifty feet in width, and the quay space around is upwards of twenty-one acres in extent." 

Greenland Dock, which at that time was smaller than Canada Dock, had been the dominant of Rotherhithe's docks, but Canada Dock was much bigger and expanded the system's capacity for cargo handling and quickly began to equal Greenland Dock in importance for the Surrey Commercial Docks.  It mainly handled grain and other food products imported from Canada.

Canada Dock in 1876 and 1914

If you compare the 1876 and 1914 maps, you can see how the ponds were re-arranged to enable the extension of Greenland Dock and its connection to Canada Dock. If you are using the Firefox browser you can right click and opt to open the image in a new tab, which will give you a much better view than left clicking the image. After its extension, Greenland Dock was connected to Canada Dock at the point where the current underpass to from Greenland Dock to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre passes under the road and red bascule bridge. Quebec Dock had to be truncated quite substantially to make room for the extension.  This gave the most efficient linkage so far between the two systems that had formerly been separate and operated by competing companies.  

Canada Water was closed when the Surrey Commercial Docks finally failed and were shut down for good in 1970.  The Surrey Quays shopping centre car park takes up much of the land that this occupied, with a small section of the dock left behind to serve as a wildlife reserve. Amazingly, it was under threat from developers recently, but public reaction saved it from being destroyed.

Canada Water in 1996, the last patch that remains of Canada Dock, as
it was during the construction of the Jubilee Line station, also
called Canada Water.  The Albion Dry Dock is shown at far left, centre.
Photo from the
London Docklands Past and Present site



Please ignore - this code is just to stop my blog being fed, lock stock and barrel, into someone else's site!  Here's a pretty picture by way of apology for the nonsense :-)

Russia Dock Woodland

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ducklings released from accidental chicken wire cage on local pond

Photograph by Steve Cornish
Thanks very much to Simon Forster for raising the alert that ducks had made up a nest on a pontoon that was surrounded by chicken wire on Mahogany Pond.  The wire was installed to protect young plants on the pontoon, but it had no large holes put into it, which meant that any water birds that flew or clambered in to start nesting would find their chicks trapped in the nest.  And this is exactly what happened.  The photograph below shows them as they were before they were released.

Steve went and had a look at the situation and says that matters have been resolved and that the ducklings were reunited with their parents, who immediately ushered them off into the dense undergrowth.

Steve says that they will be cutting away all the chicken wire on all the other pontoons within the next week or so. The chicks can get through the larger mesh protecting the plants.