Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quiz: How many ferries across the Thames are there in London?

So now we've defined how much of the Thames is in London its time for another quiz: how many ferries are there across the Thames in London?

But what do we mean by ferry? In this case I'm going with boats that take members of the general public as passengers between two points approximately on opposite sides of the river Thames (e.g. with line of sight between them).

So the Thames Clippers do not count if they go up and down the river e.g. from Embankment Pier down to Greenwich.

Then finally what time period are we talking about? In the past there were lots of ferries and this is meant to be about ferries in London now. But some ferries don't run all the time and at least one was recently suspended.

The final definition is then the time frame:
  • The ferry must have run for at least one day in the last year, taking members of the general public directly across the river Thames at some point between the London Stones.

So what do you think? How many have run over the last year?

And how many of them have you been on?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The London Stones and the Thames

So how much of the Thames is London's?

That of course raises an important question: what definition of London should be used? The Londonist has a fantastic video that discusses all sorts of alternatives, including post codes, the London boroughs, the M25, the 020 phone area code, the tube or maybe out to zone 6 of the tube and train network.

But these don't work for the Thames, as it doesn't have a phone or tube stations at either end of the London Thames.

One possible answer is the scope of the Port of London Authority (PLA), which according to Wikipedia is from the "obelisk just downstream of Teddington Lock (the upstream limit of the tidal river) to the end of the Kent/Essex strait of the North Sea (between Margate to the south and Gunfleet Lighthouse, near Frinton-on-Sea, to the north".

The trouble with that is the PLA, however important, is not London.

There is an older definition that works even in today's London, using the ancient London Stones (not to be confused with The London Stone). These were defined in times gone by as the limits of jurisdiction of the City of London. To quote Wikipedia:

In 1197 King Richard I, in need of money to finance his involvement in the Third Crusade, sold the rights over the lower reaches of the River Thames to the City of London. Marker stones were erected to indicate the limit of the City's rights

These are then:
These points are shown on the Google Earth map below and I think they work today too.

I'll come back to these London Stones in future blog posts, but until then its time for another quiz, in
the next post....

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Quiz: What is the London part of the Thames?

This is the Google Earth view of London, with the river Thames wiggling its way from left to right.

The Thames in total is 346 km in length, but how much of that is the London Thames?

Don't actually need a length - the key question is: where would London's part of the Thames start and end? How would you define it?

Answers in the comments please!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! ... on the Thames above Hampton Court Bridge

It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and this chap is sailing in a Laser... no wonder he has a content smile on his face.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Greenway of East London

I walked to the Abbey Mills pumping station from West Ham tube station, taking a route along something called the Greenway. I thought it was a disused train track that had been converted in a similar way to the High Line in NY, but I was wrong.

It was actually part of Bazelgette's great work and one of the reasons for Abbey Mills.

Those great pumps that look like ammonites rise the waste up so it can fall under gravity to the outflow in Beckton. As the land is pretty flat it means that at this end the pipes must be several metres above ground level. So under this track are a number of huge pipes flowing down to the Thames.

While walking along the Greenway I had a flash back to a few years earlier, September 2012, when I'd walked that way without knowing what it was.

It had been near midnight just after the end of the final event of one of the greatest summers that London has known, the Closing Ceremony of the Paralympics:

It makes me sad as I look at the chaos today to remember those wonderful days and weeks when the UK was united and positive.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

John Martin's pre-Bazalgette Designs

This is John Martin's 1838 drawing showing his design for a combined sewer and rain fall system contained within an embankment of the Thames.

It pre-dates Bazalgette's work by not just years but decades but while the concept is on the right lines it is lacking in engineering technique. For example the gradient along the bank of the Thames is too slack which would have caused this sewer canal to silt up badly.

But it is a lovely drawing and shows some of the ideas that were taken up by Bazalgette.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Book and Talk Review: The Frozen Frontier by Jane Maufe

The amazing Tanya Tagaq and Nanook of the North concert made me want to head north again. Alas no plans for such a trip at the moment but a good excuse to post about this book and talk.

Back in April there was a talk at Arthur Beale by Jane Maufe about how she and David Scott Cowper went through the North West passage not just once but twice in Polar Bound (above).

It was a fascinating talk and I should have blogged about it at the time but got distracted. However that gave me the opportunity to read the book, The Frozen Frontier, and then do a review of both together.

One of the high spots was Jane Maufe herself. You have to have an understanding of British class symbolism, but it was important for her to wear a pearl necklace even when surrounded ice and she had that clipped English my grandmother spoke in. She was also the four times great niece of Sir John Franklin so had the right pedigree.

She joined David Scott Cowper who is someone I'd been aware of without fully acknowledging his achievements. He took a backseat during talk and let her take the attention, which apparently is in character for both. At the back of the book was his list of achievements and I was pretty blown away - you can read some of them here. I looked for his personal web site and couldn't find one, which again seems in character. One of those quiet chaps that just goes off and does stuff without fuss.

For those with an interest in relationships, my advice is read the book as it was sweetly told there. For those with an interest in Arctic sailing read on here.

The boat was staggering well constructed, built around a Gardner engine, pretty indestructible and prepared to over-winter with plenty of stores (I mentally compared this to Jimmy Cornell's approach).

Their first traverse of the NW passage was in 2012 in which they took the most northerly route, through the McClure Strait. It was a race to be the first private vessel to get through, with strong competition from Belzebub II, a Hallberg-Rassy boat from Sweden. But Polar Bound got through first, leaving Belzebub II with the consolation prize to be the first sailing yacht. Then on through the Bering Strait to leave the boat over winter in the Alaskan Inside Passage. In 2013 they were back, taking a more southerly route, aiming for the Hecla/Fury straits.

There and back they'd encounter the usual high Arctic experiences: whales, seals, polar bears, Inuit, ice bergs, storms and fog. They also met up with Bob Shepton, who'd I met at at boat show a few years ago.

A remarkable story from two equally remarkable people.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tanya Tagaq and Nanook of the North at the NMM

As posted previously I've been to quite a few concerts and gigs this year but nothing I'd been to had the impact of the one at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) Sunday evening.

It was a showing of the classic documentary film Nanook of the North together with a performance from Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq in the The Great Map, the heart of the NMM.

It was extraordinary: her voice and presence dominated the room, raw and beautiful like the scenery of the far north:

It was part of the Origins festival of first nations in London, and the music and singing came first, dominating the film which had rather a small feel, only taking up a small part of the screen. But maybe that was appropriate, for the point of the festival was to give a voice to native cultures directly, rather than the observed viewpoint.

You can see the film for yourself here:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Five Gigs for Glastonbury Weekend

I haven't done a music post for some time and already we've reached Glastonbury weekend. Its another year of following the streams from afar, remembering gigs over the last few months.

How many of these five bands can you identify?

Now updated with descriptions.

Above and below:  Putney group The xx at the Brixton Academy:

Below: Underworld at Alexandra Palace

Below: Francois and the Atlas Mountains at the Moth Club:

Below: British Sea Power at Shepherds Bush Empire

Below: Kraftwerk at the Albert Hall

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Mystery of Seville's Guadalquivir River

Recently I went to the city of Seville in Spain and it turned out to be an extremely pleasant place to spend a long weekend.

One evening we decided to go on a cruise on the Guadalquivir river - a tourist jolly, starting at the Torre del Oro (above) which is an old Moorish tower and now houses a small Maritime Museum.

Except... was it really a river? Have a looking at this Google Earth photo:

The "river" has actually been filled in higher up, so it isn't a river at all, more a elongated inlet, which explained why we couldn't see any flow. The boat turned round before getting to this point, as if to keep this a secret.

This probably relates to Seville being a working port but the river has a problem of silting, hence the long straight bit of the new channel. Large cruise ship can still make it all the way up the river to Seville as in this photo:

We did see a few rowers, kayakers and paddle boarders, but not really enough to do a Boats! Boats! Boats ... in Seville.

Anyhow, it wasn't really a real river.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Unseasonably warm at the moment in Blightly land.

Skies were clear all across the country, a bit like this:
This photo was actually taken at the end of May when went to Seville for the Bank Holiday Weekend - have a post on that coming up. Apparently there it is due to hit 41C today and 43 later this week - that is proper scorchio weather.

For those that want to know where scorchio comes from, here's a short video:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What not to put in the sewers

Ok, time for some of the harsh facts of life: some things just shouldn't be flushed away.

Take wet-wipes: these don't decay but just clog up the pipes as was demonstrated above. Then there's fat and grease: if you flush it away with a kettle-full of hot water it just gradually cools until it makes a ball of fat underground.

Now most of these will flush away in a heavy rain but some of the tougher items could clog up the pumps and the largest fat-balls have to be dug away by some poor worker.

So treat the sewers like you would a yacht heads: with care.

Of course our next question was what is the most interesting thing you've found in the sewers and the answer was quite a lot. Take this pile by the exit ladder:
Excuse me if I don't rush to eat my yogurt with these.

Above they had a display cabinet with some of the more interesting items that have been picked up:

Seriously, who looses these things down the sewer?

Monday, June 12, 2017

London OnWater 2017 at St Katharine Docks

This weekend there was an event called London OnWater 2017 at St Katharine Docks.

The blub on their web site called it "London’s No.1 On-Water Boat Show & Festival" but... well.. it wasn't that big to be honest. However I guess that technically it was accurate as the London Boat Show had zero boats actually on the quayside by the ExCel exhibition centre in January.

London OnWater was held in one of the St Katharine Docks and seemed almost as much about cars as boats:
One of the boats looked like something off a James Bond set, namely the Glider Yachts "sport limousine":
Apart from looking like a rocket ship apparently it can go like one too - this model can reach 56 knots and another in the range is rated as up to 96 knots!

I didn't ask the price as not really my market though I did wander off to the Oyster Yachts to have a little dream:

Then back to Tower Hill and the tube home.

So what did I think? Well I had an interesting couple of hours at London OnWater 2017 but I'm not quite sure where it fits in the boat show marketplace. I'm guessing that being located bang in the City means there was potential for boat makers to address the high end luxury market which isn't really my thing.

My favourite chats were with the Cruising Association and the London Corinthian Sailing Club, both of which I've been to in the past and should try to visit again.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Thames Tideway Tunnel and the fate of the Bubbler

I've posted before about the Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer.

Why do we need this super sewer? Well, London is getting bigger and bigger and with all those extra people are doing what people do the sewer system can't cope. In addition it's never been that good at coping with heavy rainfalls and that has led to lots of raw sewage going straight into the Thames.

So there is a clear need for additional capacity, lots of it, and the statistics are pretty mind boggling. The main tunnel will have a width of 7m, enough for three double-decker busses to drive side by side along it (take that the Italian job) - that's wider than Crossrail.

6 tunnelling machines will be boring away about 75m under London at 100m / week with something like 25 km of tunnel to dig.

Of course it won't be cheap, with figures like £ 4.2 billion being quoted and there's a lot of engineering involved disturbing familiar places such as Putney Embankment, home of the start of the University Boat Race.

The digging will of course generated lots of soil, but the plan is to take as much as possible off by boat along the Thames itself - resulting in a projected 60% increase in river traffic.

Inevitably there will be disruption but it won't last for ever and at the end there's planned to be 3.5 acres of additional public spaces. And hopefully the Thames will be a lot healthier with much less outflows.

So what about the Bubbler? Well this is the Bubbler:
This is Thames Water's special boat that goes out after a major overflow event to pump oxygen into the river to keep the waters alive. It has over the years become a common sight, but the plan is for it to be retired as it wouldn't be required any more.

And that would be good news indeed.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Watching the America's Cup much?

If you weren't watching the America's Cup yesterday one has to ask: why not?

Gripping stuff and very, very wet.

Monday, June 05, 2017

PSB: London Can Take It

Let's keep a sense of proportion - or at least lets hope the US media (Jon Oliver excepted) gets one.

London has a long history, not all of it pleasant:
  • In AD 60, under the Romans, it was destroyed by the Iceni led by queen Boudica
  • London was also sacked in 842 and 851 by the Vikings
  • After 1066 (and all that) William the Conqueror occupied the city
  • About half the population was killed in the Black Death of the 14th century
  • During the English Civil War London took the side of Parliament and was where the King was executed in 1649
  • Almost a quarter of the population was lost in the Great Plague of 1665
  • The plague was swiftly followed by the Great Fire of 1666
  • During the 20th Century London was the target of the German Blitz (as in the video above from the band Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), who have seen a couple of times before).

London does not "reel" easily: we mind the gap and drink tea (though we might not say no to something stronger).

London is doing now what it has done for millennia: keep calm and carry on.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

No, the NY Times and others, we are not reeling. We are going about our business as normal in this fantastic, wonderful, brilliant, beautiful city.

That's what we do.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Bazalgette's Sewer System

My first off-line question after the talk on the history of London's sewers was to what degree did Bazalgette use the work of John Martin? This triggered much interest from the historian who started drawing figures of pipes of different sizes and heights in the Embankment, as apparently John Martin got this bit wrong.

The key thing is that there isn't really just the one system as there are multiple levels on each side of the Thames. In an ideal world there would be a constant, gradual, incline in the pipes ending up at the outfall with the height equal to high water at Beckton and Crossness. This is clearly not feasible given that much of low lying London is below that level.

Hence one of the key aspects of Bazalgette's design (that Martin missed) was to have these multiple levels and then pumping stations to lift lower level wast up to a higher level where it could then flow downwards.

At Beckton and Crossness the inflows ended up at a low level and so had to be pumped up to fill lagoons until the tide was high enough that the outflows would go out to sea rather than back into London.

The result was a web of pipes, the largest of which can be seen in the figure above. At Abbey Mills there are pumps that raise the waste up to a height where it can then move by gravity down to Beckton along the northern outfall sewer (more of this anon).

These pumps are pretty impressive and some of the old ones were on display like this, looking very like large metallic ammonites:
Within Abbey Mills itself there were lots of dials and control identifying the heights of the various flows to control the system:

Getting it wrong would not just be messy but could lead to flooding of low lying parts of London - where indeed several of the Thames Water staff lived. So they were clearly highly motivated to ensure the system was working efficiently!

Of course this system and map are now creaking at the seams which is why we have the Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

London History Day: The Sewers

Today is London History Day!

In case you're wondering, no you haven't been missing LHD all those years as its the first ever, and no its not been thought up by some PR company but rather a poll of the great British public.

Given my recent trip down the sewers there could be only be one topic to cover, and fortunately the Thames Water event included a very interesting talk by Ben Nithsdale on this very subject.

Very informative it was too. For example, I didn't realise that historically the word sewer didn't mean transport of human waste but a means of land drainage e.g. of rain water. And that was the case for those old Greek and Roman stone piping in the streets (plus those storm drains that The Terminator sped down on a motorbike).

In ye olde London water was expensive and delivered mostly by cart or even buckets while the waste (as I shall call it) was simply tipped into the streets. People got fed up with this but given the technology of the day (1388) the solution was just to hire men with rakes.

However in 1580 piped water was provided to streets of the City pumped via a water mill on the north end of London Bridge and this was followed by other schemes, typically using wooden drilled pipes that only ran for a few hours a week. They leaked a lot and so were unpressurised and laid along the street by the curb.

Henry VIII, when not distracted by his complex marriage affairs, was instrumental in the development of the sewers by giving commissions the right to dig sewers where they needed. These were for drainage and clean water and at this time the Thames would have been drinkable and full of fish - hence Billingsgate Market located on the riverbank in the City.

Human waste, instead of going into the street, was increasingly held in cesspits, but these tended to overflow, often into sewers, which was illegal. Water consumption rocketed as wooden pipes were replaced by iron ones, which could be pressurised and transport water from far outside the capital.

But as London boomed in 1815, the year Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, there was another dramatic change, as it became legal to pipe waste into the sewers, which in a few years become overloaded and filthy.

Famously, the artist John Martin foresaw that with the rapid increase in London's population this would require engineering to solve but he was to be ignored. It wasn't until politicians themselves were driven from Westminster by the Great Stink of 1858 that it was decided that Something Had To Be Done.

And so it was that Bazalgette started designing the great combined sewage system, that included the magnificent Abbey Mills Pumping Station:

More tomorrow...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Visiting Bazalgette's magnificent sewers

Regular readers will be well aware of my fascination with the life of John Martin, his pioneering work on London's sewer system, how it was taken up by Bazalgette in the great Victorian engineering project encapsulated by the wonderful Grade 1 Listed Crossness Pumping Station.

Readers might also have also spotted my interest in London Under, from Brunel's Thames Tunnel to disused tube stations and canal tunnels to the lost rivers of London.

So hopefully it will be at least partially understandable that high on my list of places to visit in London would be Bazalgette's magnificent sewers.

It was therefore with great excitement that I received an invite from Thames Water for just such a tour.

We started off at the Grade II listed Abbey Mills pumping station, which was once known as the "mosque in the marshes" due to its elegant dome at the top:
Inside there is much of the original metal work, but unlike Crossness this pumping station has been continually in operation, so there are also more modern pumps filling its cavernous spaces:

We were given an extremely interesting history of how London managed its water supply and, er, corresponding wastage (to put it delicately). There was also an update on the famous Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer, more of which anon, including what will happen to the Bubbler.

The tour then showed us the site's main buildings and their history. There used to be two tall chimneys but they had to be demolished in the Blitz because of concerns that if they were damaged they might fall on the pumping station itself.

Then it was time to get dressed up for the descent into London under and the sewers. The outfit made us all feel a bit like the Ghostbusters - who are you going call? - very comprehensively covered, with not just one but two gloves, which to be honest made operating the camera a bit frustrating.

Anyhow managed to get a few shots with approximately the right settings:
I'm sure you're wondering about the smell but it really wasn't that bad. They'd lowered the water level but we still to wade through a foot or two of brown water, and it wasn't just Thames mud giving it its colour I'm sure. So we were all very incentivised not to fall over or in.

Our guide showed us the Bazalgette original brick work (top photo), looking good after about 150 years and still doing its job to keep the dirty stuff out of the Thames. We also got a lesson in what not to flush down the drain, complete with examples.

More on all of this later, as there was lots of really interesting information provided over the afternoon and I have a stack of photos and videos to, er, wade through.

Many thanks to Thames Water for arranging the tour.