Keith Harding led a group of fellow Blue Badge Tourist Guides around Surrey Quays – an area often unfairly overlooked, as it lies between Rotherhithe and Greenwich. From Greenland Pier we walked along the bank of the Thames, known as Deptford Strand. Then to Convoys Wharf, the site of the Royal Naval Dockyard since the time of Henry VIII and Tsar Peter the Great’s sojourn in the area and finally the Royal Victorian Victualling Yards.
A more recent building – 26-storey Aragon Tower, built by the London Borough of Lewisham in 1962 along with two other towers on the Pepys Estate. Quite controversially at the time, it was sold by the local council in order to aid funding of its regeneration plans for the rest of the Estate. In 2006 it underwent refurbishment and now contains luxury apartments. On the wall of the Tower can be seen the Wall of Ancestors, a sculpture by Martin Bond, depicting characters, both historical and more recent, who have connections with the area, including Elizabeth I, Francis Drake and the black abolition campaigner Olaudah Equiano.
Relief map of the former Surrey Commercial Docks. Photo: ©Marilyn Collis.
On to South Dock, now London’s largest marina, together with Greenland Dock, so-called because of its connections with the whaling industry. The latter is built on the site of the Howland Great Dock, although considerably larger than its predecessor. We heard about the great storm of 1703 and how only one of the ships sheltering here was damaged in comparison to the many lost on the river itself, because of the shelter provided by the trees planted around the Howland Great Dock.
Having been shown the infamous Ship and Whale pub, at one time the longest continuously gay pub in London, we walked along the site of the Grand Surrey Canal, which linked the Surrey Commercial Docks, as these docks south of the Thames became known collectively, until they were progressively closed from 1940 onward. Today the area is occupied by the Russia Dock Woodland, named after the main dock for the import of planked soft wood or deal wood from Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltic. Finally we climbed up Stave Hill, on the summit of which is a viewing platform and a relief map of the former Surrey Commercial Docks cast in bronze by Michael Rizzello. When it rains the docks are filled with rainwater.