1: The maritime use of the lower Thames historic marine infrastructure,
The following is a discussion document showing the potential to actually regenerate the Thames into an international maritime destination by simply reusing its heritage assets. I would be most interested in learning of any other opportunities up and down the Thames so I can document them on this site and start a greater push to get these assetts the recognition they deserve and put back into use, please drop me a line, also any feedback on the web content would also be much appreciated..
Conrad Broadley Contact details; firstname.lastname@example.org 0756 219 4757.
The maritime use of the lower Thames historic marine infrastructure, Gravesend-Dartford
The Thames seems to be in a downward spiral as the traditional industrial uses are one by one becoming commercially unviable these have not been replaced by alternative river uses but have fallen foul of the sterilising effect of waterfront housing, this coupled with the devastating effect of the flood defences which cut off numerous slipways, docks, harbours and historic buildings from the Thames is leaving a very bleak and under utilised river, a legacy that certainly does not do the future of such a great river justice.
At the moment there is no where at all on the Thames that a trailored boat can be launched by the public and the only walk on walk off facility for the public to land is at St Katherine’s Dock in London which means any visitors tend to sail on by, with a bit of drive and imagination the waterfront from Dartford Town Centre through to Gravesend Town Centre could become once again a vibrant boating destination with a heritage to be truly proud of.
The following locations show the surviving rich heritage of the Thames as well as showing in some instances how the historic infrastructure if treated with more imagination need not be lost but could actually compliment new development and help spearhead a new chapter in maritime pride for the Thames.
Lower Hope Point site of Watermans Stone
This stone together with a similar stone nr Teddington Lock marks the extent of the Thames Watermans licence.
Disused harbour and former access to canal that leads right to the cliffs at Cliffe. Originally this harbour would have served the cement industry which was prevalent at Cliffe as well as the explosives industry. Explosive production at Cliffe Marshes dates back to 1890
This could be bought back into use creating a tidal marina, the sheltered location would also be good for houseboats as the depths are not too deep. The boating community that lives at Broadness Creek were originally located here but were moved due to the proximity to the armaments and the military.
This could also be a very important and useful safe port should inclement weather arise, vessels could either dock here to avoid going into a turbulent Thames Estuary or this could be a welcome escape, however unless part dredged this would not be available at all states of the tide as the entrance dries out at 0.6m (Gravesend Canal Basin dries out at 4.4m)
Cliffe Fort was built in the Victorian times as a defence against invasion, and was part of network of such strategically located forts. As with the other forts this saw active service in the second world war. This fort was the site of a wire guided torpedo system in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries the remains of which can still be seen
Hans Egede, Ship Wreck
A sizable wreck of a timber ship is beached next to Cliffe Fort, it is a fascinating vessel and gives an insight into how ships decay and become the dreams of archaeologists in centuries to come, the lower hull is already full of mud which will semi preserve those timbers the rest that are standing proud will eventually rot, fall off and float away, there is another ship wreck nearby which just has a few timbers still proud of the mud.
The vessel is the Hans Egede. A wooden, auxiliary 3-masted vessel, built in 1922 by J. Th. Jorgensen at Thuro, Denmark.
Maunsell Fort wreckage Nore Army Fort
Adjacent to the Hans Egede are the remains of the Nore Army Fort visible at low tide in particular the complete base can be clearly seen. This fort was part of a series of forts set up to guard the Thames during WW2, this particular fort proved to be a shipping hazard having been collided into twice, the first time with the loss of four lives, the fort was dismantled in the 1960s, much of the metal was scrapped but the foundation and other remnants were dumped on the fore shore.
Cliffe Fort Lake & Sailing Club
To the South of Cliff Fort, inland, is a large 140 acre lake, formed within an old quarry, which is used by the Blue Circle Sailing Club, they were founded in 1956, wind surfing and dinghy sailing take place here in the safety of the lake but with the advantage of good coastal winds.
This lake having such a close proximity to the Thames only being separated by a small land bridge could quite easily be opened up with a yacht marina, care would be needed not to conflict with the existing use and there would be ecological issues to consider although the RSPB are keen to recreate salt marshes so opening this area up to sea water may help this objective.
To note this lake and boat club has now been closed down as the Royal Society for Protection of Birds RSPB wanted the lake filled in to create a shallow pool area for birds. No alternative boating facilities were provided as mitigation.
Superb example of an early metal lighthouse, always reminds me of a Jules Verne style rocket ship, this lighthouse has been moved to the PLA jetty next to the Ship and Lobster PH where it is now stored, this lighthouse should not be lost and should be incorporated in one of the new developments, perhaps at Robins Creek when the harbour is restored.
This structure is currently at risk and could easily be lost should the PLA need the room.
Superb example of a river fort typical of the period built in the 1790s and modified in the 1850s then of course as with most forts contributed to the WWII war effort, unfortunately partially obscured from the river view by the river defences, the historic aspect of this fort would be served well if the sea defences were moved to be in line or actually behind the fort.
Denton Quarantine Station
Original early twentieth century isolation hospital, still used as a base for the River Health Authority
Ship and Lobster public house
Old pub originally built to service the watermen, cut off from the river by the harsh sea wall.
Ship and Lobster slipway
Directly adjacent to the Ship and Lobster ph is a disused slipway and a usable flood defence gate, it would not take a huge stretch of imagination to see how easy this could be bought back into use a management regime would be needed for ensuring the flood gates are opened and shut at the appropriate times, some investment would be needed for repairs to the slipway as it is a bit rough and ready. An operation such as this would lend itself well to managed by the Ship and Lobster who would benefit from launching fees, parking fees and increased custom at the bar and restaurant.
Now the site of the PLA wharf
Boat House on stilts
Probably the last of its kind on the Lower Thames very poor state of repair, the tools and equipment suggest that it could probably have been used for repairing timber boats and possibly even Thames Sailing barges in its day. This building was built after 1897 but before 1932, originally the boat house had a jetty down to the low water and was linked by a track to the canal side road. (To note as of Feb 2011 this structure has unfortunately been demolished)
Site of Gravesend Sailing Club and Gravesend Marina. The private marina has a very vibrant community of houseboats as well as a collection of yachts and power boats. The canal basin is constrained in its use because of the tides and the loss of the second lock gate during the second world war. The canal basin is a good facility but the offer of the wider area could be improved with the second lock gate and with the upcoming development proposals a focus on boat repairs, boat storage and chandlery provision along the sea wall .
Warehousing and ship repairs around canal basin
Soon to be lost if development plans proceed, the industrial maritime heritage of this area is not valued and no attempt has been made to incorporate any of the features within the new development, the fact that the warehouse units are still servicing the boating industry with boat repairs and being one of a very few places that can still actually crane boats out of the Thames seems to be lost. The site had an interesting history there was the former Albion baths at the end of Albion Parade, soap factory, mills wharehousing, cranage wharfage, slipways and so on. The surviving building frontages to the South of Albion Parade originally faced on to the Thames prior to the land being reclaimed to the North, a much greater understanding of this sites evolution and heritage is needed.
Also this sites importance to the functioning of the canal basin has not been fully appreciated, the waterfront crane, yard space could all help towards providing a really vibrant boating facility which in turn will enhance the character of the canal basin, there is a great danger that the use of the canal basin could be constrained even if the facility of parking is decreased. Near the crane was an actual slipway if this were to be reprovided the whole area could really take off as a boating destination, not only serving the sailing club and the residential moorings but serving the whole general public and perhaps engendering a whole new boating community.
Thames and Medway Canal
The Thames and Medway Canal was finally opened in 1824 to allow boats to avoid the sometimes perilous journey into the Thames Estuary when going to the Medway, this was a strategic route for the military as well as convenient for commercial trade. The advent of rail freight put paid to the canals short life as it was far more competitive. The railway used the tunnel originally constructed for the canal which effectively totally killed the canal which then had parts of it filled in for factory use. There is a desire at Gravesend to reopen the part of the canal filled in so as to rejoin the canal to the canal basin, this would allow the expansion of the canal basin and possibly allow for boat storage, chandleries, repairs, miles of houseboats and bring some life back into the area.
Gravesend Sailing Club
Gravesend Sailing Club was established in 1894, and moved to its present site in 1906. It is now believed to be the oldest-established Sailing Club on the Lower Thames.
Very pleasant waterfront park, has play area tea room come burger bar, fishing lake, formal gardens, chine.
New Tavern Fort
New Tavern Fort was built in the 1780s against the threat of invasion from France. The fort was extensively rebuilt by General Gordon about 1870.
The Fort Gardens were originally part of the garden to Fort House, General Gordon's residence in Gravesend (1865-71) and which he subsequently donated to the people of
Henry VIII’s Milton and Gravesend Block House
Gravesend Rowing Club
Gravesend Rowing Club is one of the oldest rowing clubs on the tidal Thames, it was established in 1878. Over the last 121 years, Gravesend has produced numerous winners of the Doggetts Coat and Badge, and a number of Henley competitors and International oarsmen..
The Rowing Club has use of a jetty which is a very rare facility on the Thames, its usage is restricted to small boats and larger trailored boats are unable to use the slipway. There is no parking for the general public so its use end up being a bit limited.
National Sea Training School, Wates Hotel
A decaying boat launching facility survives which was part of the national sea training schools facility, an interesting curio in danger of being lost. This was also the site of the former Wates Hotel
HM Customs Look out post and floating pontoon
A hexagonal timber clad lookout post for HM Customs, neglected and out of site needs bringing into the public domain. The floating pontoon is very rarely used by the customs and could be a much needed facility if the customs used the equally restricted PLA jetty.
Royal Terrace Pier
Built to rival the Town Pier to bring tourists to Gravesend when it was a vibrant waterfront destination, currently in use by the PLA, because of its location this could be a great destination for tall ships, Thames barges and as a public walk on walk off facility should the PLA ever move office.
This historic tiny bay, adjacent to St. Andrews Church, was named after the many shrimp boats which used to moor there in the 19th century. This site is unique because it survived the ravages of the flood defences and has still retained its historic character despite the risk of the occasional flood.
Many families set sail from there hoping to start a new life in Australia and New Zealand. It is not unusual for descendants of these families to return to Gravesend when tracing their ancestors. Bawley Bay was once the heart of Gravesend's fishertown, with over 100 Thames Bawley shrimp boats working from this one small stretch of river. Bawley Bay is also the point from where the local Thames watermen serviced the ships in the offing in Gravesend Reach off the Thames. Cargoes and passengers were transferred to and from the shore in the famous wherry boats.
Bawley Bay is the only free landing place where boats can beach on the Thames although very rarely used, more could be made of this facility.
Wharves & Jetties
Along the front at Gravesend are a succession of small historic wharfs and sites of jetties which would have served the numerous small shipping concerns, Commercial Wharf, Saddington Wharf, Marriots Wharf, Evesfield Wharf, Coal Wharf , Amsterdam Bridge landing stage and so on.
Formerly a passenger Pier, erected in 1834 at the bottom of the High Street it is the oldest remaining cast iron pier in the world. It has recently been restored with a restaurant and a bar making use of the views, at the moment its original purpose of landing has been lost but this could be corrected with the addition of a floating pontoon, also access to the underside has been restricted as the stairs have not been restored, whilst it is very muddy underneath there is considerable heritage to be seen with the historic slipway underneath, the ornate ironwork of the pier and for the mud-larkers there are hundreds of broken pieces of clay pipes with the occasional rare find of a collector’s piece.
Clifton Slipway bays and Pier
Formally the pier was the terminal of the Gravesend West railway line which then joined with a ferry service for the passengers, to either side of the pier is two bays which were originally used for ship building and maintenance.
The site is currently the application for a restored pier with restaurant and new build flats, more could be made of the site if beaching of boats is allowed and a floating pontoon is positioned at the end of the pier to allow ferries and river taxis to operate. Currently the lack of landing sites discourages all potential ferry and taxi operators so the addition here as part of the development would be a major catalyst to regenerating use of the river.
Clifton Hotel and Baths
Long since gone and now the site of flats and warehouse retail units, this area was once a very attractive destination with a fine hotel and baths. There was also a Royal Yacht Club able to fly the blue insignia.
A road that ran parallel to Pier Road, not much is known of its naming but it does suggest a shameful past.
The pier is long gone but there are substantial remains which feature a landing stage, a large tunnel which extend back 100ft under the road, )this is possibly part of a ticket hall or a space for boats to dock), substantial stairs, also there is an ornate sea wall and some WWII additions as part of the Thames defences. At the moment commercially there is not enough river use to justify bringing this back into use but should the tide turn on the Thames decline this may well be an attractive location for a future pier and marina for all manner of vessels.
There are many fine cranes that serve the Thames, this important part of our industrial heritage is in danger of being lost as these sites change uses.
.AEE Cable Works & Henleys
These factories were built on the site of Rosherville Gardens whilst the loss of the gardens are certainly to be mourned these factory buildings have a heritage of their own to be proud of, the Henley building is a superb art deco structure, the cable works boast a fine contribution to the war effort being the site of the D Day landing underwater fuel pipes, as well as numerous other special cables such as degaussing for mine clearance, there is also an extensive gas proof air raid complex in the chalk cliffs.
There is a good opportunity for providing access to the beach at this point with stairs at either end and at the middle.
Fire Queen was one of two identical locomotives built for the Padarn Railway, which connected the Dinorwic Quarry near Llanberis in north Wales with the port at Y Felinheli. The railway was opened in 1840 using horses to pull the slate trains. It replaced the even earlier Dinorwic Railway which has opened in 1824. 
The two locomotives, Fire Queen and Jenny Lind, were built by marine engineers A. Horlock and C.at Northfleet; they were the only railway locomotives built by this company. The locomotives were based on a patent of Thomas Crampton's of 1847, which specified a locomotive with driving wheels positioned at the ends of the boiler driven by steeply inclined cylinders placed between the wheels. The locomotives lacked a frame, the wheels and cylinders were attached directly to the boiler.
They were delivered to the railway in 1848 and continued working until life expired in the late 1880s. Jenny Lind was scrapped, but Fire Queen was placed in a small shed at the quarry workshop, Gilfach Ddu. It stayed there until the quarry closed in 1969 at which time it was sold to John Smith MP and loaned to the nearby Penrhyn Castle Railway Museum where it remains on display.
Also built in this area was some early generators and 35 million bullets, 180 ships including one of the worlds oldest surviving lightships and ships used by Nelson
Red Lion Wharf
The site of the construction of the Maunsell sea forts that protected the Thames during WW2 the wreckage spoke about above would have been made here, perhaps the beach here would be a more fitting resting place allowing the public to see the size of these structures and understand the areas importance to the war effort.
An interesting Grade 2 listed lighthouse is the next view upstream at the tip of wharf 42 the Lafarge aggregates wharf.
Bevans War Memorial
Another listed structure, a superb statue of Britannia dedicated to the Bevan’s WWI war heroes.
Historic Northfleet Harbour
A very exciting opportunity exists here, Northfleet Harbour is a disused harbour cut off from the Thames by insensitive flood defences. Northfleet Harbour is where the River Fleet that gives Northfleet, Southfleet and the more internationally known Ebbsfleet its name. In times gone by Romans and Saxons were known to have used this river and their sites were excavated as part of the Ebbsfleet International Railway Station development. More recently the harbour has been used for the first ever cement exports, ship building, armament exports, some armaments were produced in local foundries for the Crimean war. Much of the armament foundaries survive some of them hidden within nearby woods, these when built in 1850 were state of the art and were boasted as being the safest in the country with members of the public invited to visit. As testament to the birthplace of the cement industry one of the first beehive kilns still survives near this harbour and has been designated a scheduled ancient monument.
It does not take a great stretch of imagination to see how if this harbour was restored and a lock gate put in the sea wall a much needed resource could be created. At the moment the lower Thames does not have any step on step off mooring facilities, the only location for these is at St Katherines Dock in London, this site lends itself perfectly to the creation of a 300 berth marina and is superbly sited being 15minutes from Ebbsfleet International station. It also doesn’t take much imagination to see the historic value of the foundaries and cement industry these could if retained lend themselves quite well to public interpretation centres for the area.
The slipway at the end of College Road is a public landing spot which was the cause of riots when the cement industry tried to restrict their usage in 1853, such ancient rights deserved to be preserved and used.
The site of the 17th century tidal water mill can still be seen, much earlier the Domesday book spoke of water mills and fisheries slightly upstream in the River Fleet.
The below are pictures of boats at the creek using the historic harbour.
The below is Robins Creek before the sea wall robbed it of its access to the Thames, all it needs is a lock gate and it is a both a marina and an International destination to compliment Ebbsfleet International which is just 5 minutes away.
Home to Broadness Cruising Club, the boat club has been here for decades and the boating community even longer, in places it is a bit of a ramshackle affair but nevertheless it is a very valuable contribution to the boating community on the Thames, the creek has a very rare facility on the Lower Thames which is a usable slipway capable of launching sizable trailored boats. The history of boating at Broadness goes back centuries, there has been Roman finds in the creek entrance, the ancient roads that spread across the peninsular Pilgrims Road and Manor Way originally joined with branches of the creek and evidence of drawdocks can be seen, there is even an ancient stone causeway that can be walked all the way to the lowest Spring tides.
The small surviving part of the creek owes its existence to Broadness Cruising Club, the neighbouring factory filled in 80% of the creek as a land grab and it was only the presence of the boating club that helped keep this last bit open, it is hoped when the new London Resort scheme comes along that some of the filled in lengths of the creek can be reopened to help create saltmarsh and a wildlife zone adjacent to the boat club.
Whites Jetty & Bells Wharf
Former export jetties for the cement industry, these deep water wharves would, if not used on an industrial scale, lend themselves to a sheltered marina with ample space for on land boat storage and repairs. At the moment these jetties and wharves have lain dormant for the best part of 20 years and there does not seem to be a genuine industrial use coming forward. The surviving Bells Wharf dates back to the Victorian era and the first major exports of cement from the area, Whites Jetty came later. Several hundred berths and moorings could be created relatively simply both within the sheltered part and out on the Thames on swinging moorings or trots, this facility would be large enough to fund a trot boat especially in peak season, it also would be an ideal place for a public slipway and on shore maritime facilities.
I’m sure Radio Caroline and that Russian Nuclear Missile Sub slowly rotting on the Medway would jump at the chance of berths at this location as would a steady stream of tall ships and other historic vessels.
At the Black Duck at the end of Lovers Lane there are ancient landing rights which may well be honoured in Crest Nicholson’s latest phase of their Ingress Park development, they are proposing to build a public slipway which if constructed will be the only such facility on the Lower Thames and the first such to be built in the last 50 or so years.
Timber structures in beach
Along the shore are numerous lines of wood sticking out several inches from the beach, it is not known how old these are or there original purpose, they could for example be fish traps, pontoons or early sea defences.
Lovers Lane and 18th Century Haa Haa
Leading up to London Road from Black Duck is Lovers Lane in which will be found the substantial remains of an unlisted 18th Century Haa-Haa from the former estate to the mansion house that preceded the current Ingress Abbey, for a long time this was confused as a sea wall despite the friability of the lose mortar binding the rough flints together it was only recent research linking the 18th Century landscape at Ingress to the likes of Capability Brown and Sir William Chambers that features like this can start to be understood. This feature is currently under threat and will be lost to housing development.
Site of Ingress Abbey and its collection of rare follies nestled within a 20th Century housing development fronting the River Thames. One slipway, one small jetty, a boat house, a boat yard and a very large pier were lost to development at this site, however to their credit the developer are looking to introduce a much needed public slipway and parking which will be a first for the Thames.
Pier Road boat yard and dry dock
A very rare facility of a dry dock exists here, although only suitable for small boats this structure gives meaning to the Greenhithe Conservation area and is the last real link to Greenhithe’s very proud maritime past. Unfortunately this is constantly threatened by insensitive development by a developer who seems to totally disregard planning guidelines. Should the stalemate ever be ended by the developer and this site freed back up for river usage this will certainly be a welcome facility for boat users for repairs. It would also make an ideal base for the local sea scouts.
Pier Hotel & Causeway
A causeway extend to the low water mark to allow for small vessels to land or the tenders of larger vessels to land its passengers, a favourite haunt of the local sailing clubs for lunch in the Pier Hotel.
Not many left, people still can’t believe it actually floated.
There is a proposal to clad it in wood and make a pier feature of it for the general public.
Sir John Franklin Public House, (formally know as the White Hart)
This site is much the same as the Ship and Lobster, it was originally built to face onto the Thames to service the boat crews but with the advent of the sea wall it has lost its connection to the Thames, it has a very usable small bay which with a bit of imagination could be made to be more boat friendly and once again make the White Hart a boating destination. It’s a far cry from its early days where it was built fronting the Thames with a slipway running down its side. Again a low level intervention with a landing stage and some offshore moorings would be beneficial.
Redlands Aggregate Wharf
Another site in danger of being sterilised of its marine use and lost to housing. If housing does become the only option and the industrial wharfage is lost the opportunity for leisure marine use should be conditioned allowing all of the marine infrastructure to be used for moorings, the deepwater jetty could be reused for river taxis which would be ideal for Bluewater and Crossways as well as close to the North Kent railway line and Fastrack bus service.
Crossways Business Park
Major opportunity here for slipways, boat sales and a marina taking full advantage of the good road network and the new industrial units..
Major landmark, M25 Dartford Crossing.
Disused Wharfs past Littlebrook Power Station
These Wharfs are in a very poor state of repair, they could in the distant future provide a space for a locked marina with the walls rebuilt and the infill dugout,
Isolation Wards at Long Reach and Hulks
All that remains of the Victorian isolation wards are long lines of cobbled roads leading onto into Dartford Marshes.
Flood Gates entrance to River Darent
Picturesque concrete structure
Wells Firework Factory
Also along the River Darent remains one of the last firework factories in England, ceased trading around 20-30 years ago but the sheds designed to limit any damage from explosions still survive populated by barn owls. This facility was also used during WWII for manufacture of flares amongst other things for the war effort.
Dartford and Crayford Creek Restoration Trust
Steam Crane Wharf
Since the below Dartford and Crayford Creek Restoration Trust has been formed and they are going at a great pace reversing the decades of neglect and have already had yachts and narrow boats up the creek in 2015. A website is under construction and a Facebook page is already spreading the word. Please visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1493013297641232/ for all the latest news activity and achievement.
If you have a boat and can get on the Thames please come and join the growing numbers of boaters helping claim back our maritime birthright at Dartford and Crayford.
Last in the line between Gravesend to Dartford, probably alongside Robins Creek one of the most exciting opportunities for a power boat marina in North Kent, because of the low air draft of the bridge for Bob Dunn Way it would only be suitable for motor and house boats. The area currently has two disused lock gates from the former paper industry and a large sluice gate which if renovated would create a lock pool five to six times longer than Gravesend Canal Basin, there is agreement from the Environmental Agency that the lock gates can be restored and SEEDA have created plans showing how a restored lock and Marina would form the centre piece for regeneration. What is particularly exciting about this development is it is only ten minutes walk from the Town Centre and like Robins Creek not many people are aware that it even exists never mind having considered its potential. There is also a disused slipway here which could be used for canoes, small dinghies and all sorts when the lock gates are restored.
The cruise through Dartford Marshes
This is the passage under Bob Dunn Way at Dartford, the air draft will restrict steam crane wharf to power boats of modest air draft unless yachts dismast as they go up the River Darent, there is always the opportunity to create moorings for yachts just before the bridge, leaving a 20 minute walk into town or ten minute dinghy ride.
In times gone by Elizabeth the First sailed up this river to visit Franks Hall at Horton Kirby, it would have probably have served Henry VIII manor house at Dartford as well.
The following summarises the availability of the various facilities a river such as the Thames should offer