Glorious sights of the Great Wen: the industrial Thames

Industrial jetty on the River Thames near Greenwich (photo: Francis Sedgemore)
Industrial jetty on the River Thames near Greenwich (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

When in the southeast of England, I do most of my cycling around the rolling hills of rural northwest Kent. But in the past few months some of my rides have been explorations of London’s waterways, including the River Thames and its tributaries the Ravensbourne and Quaggy, and man-made channels such as the Regents and Grand Union canals, and the River Lea Navigation.

Between Greenwich and Woolwich is a 10 kilometre stretch of the River Thames with a long industrial heritage, and along the riverbank one can cycle with only a few short detours away from the waterfront. In East Greenwich, near the Millennium Dome (aka Blair’s Folly, or the O2 Arena), there are a number of industrial jetties such as the one shown here.

On the surface they may be ugly structures, but, with the often rich texture of decaying concrete, the jetties fascinate me, and occasionally I stop to contemplate how they were once used. There is still some industrial activity in the area, but this is now limited mostly to aggregate firms, with ships bringing in sand from the Thames Estuary and North Sea regions. The smaller jetties are left unused, memorials to a bygone age.