Wednesday, 28 February 2018

St Katharine Docks

The Thames in London used to have a number of docks, of which St Katharine Docks was just one of them. Located on the North bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge the docks was named after a hospital, St Katharine's by the Tower, which once stood on the site. The whole area was redeveloped in the 1820s with the hospital, thousands of homes (mostly rather poor slums) and other buildings demolished to build the docks area and large warehouses.

The docks opened in 1828 but were not a rousing success, they could not accommodate large ships which hindered their commercial viability though the docks remained busy. St Katharine Docks was one of the first of London's docks to be closed in 1968. The docks became a marina with most of the warehouses demolished (those which still stood - a number had been destroyed in the Second World War). 

The area of St Katharine Docks has now turned full circle with housing once more filling the area - though nowadays the houses are expensive flats not slum houses.

Monday, 26 February 2018

RNLB City of Sheffield

One of the exhibits at the excellent National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield is a retired Tyne class lifeboat which carries the city's name. Lifeboat 1131 City of Sheffield was built in 1988 at Wright/Souter and served at Whitby, Ramsgate, Hartlepool, Relief and Poole lifeboat stations [1]. It served at Poole for the longest, saving over six hundred and fifty people in fifteen years service before being retired in 2016 [2].

[1] Nicholas Leach and Tony Denton, Lifeboat Directory (Ships in Focus, 2013) p. 105
[2] "RNLI City of Sheffield: Lifeboat which saved 650 people retired" <>

Monday, 19 February 2018

Penarth Marina

Penarth Marina, on the other side of Cardiff Bay from Cardiff, is a prime example of how the waterways have changed from commercial to leisure use. The site was originally Penarth Dock a port which was very busy in the late nineteenth century though slowly declined throughout the twentieth to finally close in 1960.

While some of Penarth Dock's old basins were filled in and lost for continued marine use for housing, some were redeveloped to create a marina for leisure craft that now opens out onto Cardiff Bay. The marina opened in the late 1980s and now has berths for over three hundred small boats.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

North Dock, West India Docks

The West India Docks are three docks on the Isle of Dogs in East London, now part of the Canary Wharf financial district. Once however they were part of a very different kind of trade being an integral part of the thriving London Docklands.

However the docks, as with other traditional docks around the UK went into decline post World War Two as much trade switched to container ships which required purpose built new facilities. By the end of the 1970s most trade has ceased in this part of London and the area was in heavy decline. The area was regenerated in the 1980s to become the shiny commercial and retail hub it is now, although some parts of the docks were lost due to rebuilding (one of the docks was partially lost to become a tube station) most were retained as part of the redevelopment as skyscrapers rose and the old warehouses became apartments and restaurants.

North Dock was once the Import Dock and could contain up to six hundred vessels. There are somewhat less there now but a rather lovely collection of preserved ships all the same.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bourne End Mill Arm

The Bourne End Mill Arm is a formerly navigable arm off the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead that served a water powered corn mill at Bourne End. A mill has been on the site since 1289 though the current mill building dates from the nineteenth century. It is now a hotel and restaurant.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Cardiff's Norwegian Church

Like many ports Cardiff was home to communities of overseas merchant seamen, including many Norwegians. Norway has one of the largest merchant fleets in the world in the nineteenth century and Cardiff was a major hub of operations.  To serve the large and growing Nordic community in Cardiff a church was built and consecrated in 1868. The church became the centre of the expatriate community and a place of refuge in times of war including during the Second World War for Norwegians who could not return to their Nazi occupied homeland.

Cardiff was declining as a trade port in the twentieth century, a decline which hastened after the war. The Nordic community in the city thus also declined, the church was eventually closed and deconsecrated in 1974. The church fell into ruin and was threatened with demolition. Luckily the church had been built from iron sheets to allow it to be moved if necessary. This allowed the church to be dismantled and stored in 1987. The church was reassembled in 1992 as part of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay and is now an arts centre.

One notable member of the expatriate community in Cardiff was Roald Dahl who was born in the city in 1916 and baptised in the church.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Islington Tunnel

Islington Tunnel is 878m long and takes the Regent's Canal under the Angel area of Islington. The tunnel was opened in 1818 and has no towpath. Before canal barges had their own built-in source of power barges had to be legged through the tunnel. This meant that men had to lie on top of the barge and push the barge through the canal with their legs - no doubt quite a tiring job in a 878m long tunnel!

Later on a chain on the canal bed was fitted to haul barges through pulled by a steam tug and later diesel. It went out of use in the 1930s, by then most barges could get through the tunnel without any help.
East end of tunnel

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Corn by canal

A Pathe newsreel on the importance of the canals for inland trade in 1940.