Lost Glories: Photos of a Thames Journey from Woolwich to Thamesmead


The Thames Barrier and Canary Wharf from WoolwichHeading east to Woolwich ArsenalThe John Burns, a Woolwich Ferry boatThe remains of Woolwich Dockyard (east)The remains of Woolwich Dockyard (west)The derelict buildings at Woolwich Dockyard
The Woolwich FerryWoolwich Arsenal and the white towers'Assembly' by Peter BurkeFrom death-dealers to bankers: new homes in Woolwich Royal ArsenalRoyal Artillery QuaysStorm view: Looking west from Woolwich to Canary Wharf and The Shard
The transcendent skyClouds reflected in puddlesThe flooded pathCentral Way Pumping StationSignposts to nowhere, ThamesmeadThamesmere, a lake in Thamesmead
Brutalist architecture viewed from ThamesmeadThe last block of flatsThe clock tower, ThamesmeadDissected by water, the Thamesmead Shopping CentreThe Thamesmead Shopping CentreThe end of the road

Lost Glories: A Thames Journey from Woolwich to Thamesmead, a set on Flickr.

On July 11, 2012, as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, I cycled east from Greenwich, intending to travel to the Thames Barrier, on the border of Charlton and Woolwich, but then carrying on, through Woolwich to Thamesmead, the satellite town originally built in the 1960s, and used as the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s notorious film “A Clockwork Orange,” and back via Belmarsh Prison and Plumstead, before rejoining the Thames Path once more for the journey back west, and home.

I’m posting these photos in four sets, and this is the third, following Chasing Clouds in Greenwich: Photos of a Journey East Along the Thames and Industry and Decay: Photos of a Journey Along the Thames from Greenwich to Woolwich (also see here and here) in which I recorded the first stage of the journey, through Greenwich under a brooding, rain-filled sky, and then through New Charlton, past the Thames Barrier and into Woolwich, through industrial estates, and with a diversion to an evocative set of river stairs.

Thamesmead, an experiment in social housing since the 1960s, is not generally on any tourist itineraries, although the journey there, along the river at least, is wonderful, literally transporting the visitor to another world, away from the hectic nature of the city. From Woolwich, the path alongside the river is surprisingly rural, and even when I reached the main housing developments in Thamesmead, I found lakes and space that reinforced the notion that I was far from central London, in a liminal place that, it seemed to me, was unable to disguise the fact that it was initially claimed back from marshland.

Thamesmead has often received a bad press, although any area that doesn’t bear the visible and audible stamp of the aspirational middle class tends to be given that stigma. I hope to pay another visit to explore it further, but I hope these first impressions capture something of it for those who have never visited.

Looking back at them now, two months later, I recall the emptiness of its spaces near the Thames, and especially the lake I visited, Thamesmere, which was something of an oasis, dotted with people fishing. I also recall the general shortage of amenities and transport links, and the ease with which I got lost, but I was drawn to the solitude and the sense of space, probably because, like all liminal riverside locations, it reminded me of growing up outside Hull, close to the River Humber.

Tomorrow I’ll post the last photos in this series, before moving on to other sets from the ever-increasing archive of London photos that I’m compiling — as well as further photos from my recent two-week holiday in Italy — of Abruzzo province, as well as the last of the photos from Rome. Please feel free to check out my photo sets or collections as organised in Flickr, or to search for photos via tags. I have also been locating all the London photos on a map, as mapping is a major part of my project to photograph London by bike.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, around 2 am, I wrote:

    Sorry for posting so late – UK time, at least. I takes me longer than I think it should to write commentary to accompany photos, to tag them, to upload them, to put them into a set with commentary, and then to post to my website with added commentary. Why would I think that shouldn’t take long? Hope you enjoy!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    Excellent Andy… fascinating… thanks for posting…

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Carol Anne Grayson wrote:

    The stormy sky in there is beautiful…

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing this, Andy. I too find photos difficult to comment on meaningfully. I just posted the first ever photo of Paris, and my commentary said just that. Quite unsatisfying.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Carol. Great to hear from you. And thanks also, George. The problem, I’m finding, is that I’m visiting places that I’m appreciating intuitively, but then, as is my wont, I want to understand the history of these places before posting photos. It’s also integral to my project, as I’m cycling and photographing London in order to understand it, and, in some fundamental way, to incorporate it. I now need to buy some books as, refreshingly, a lot of London’s local history isn’t online.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I never liked ebooks, and after having read a now-classic blog post about Amazon’s attempt to force publishers (and, I’ll add, indie bookshops) out ot the market and monopolise the ebook market, am avoiding Amazon whenever possible. Here’s the post: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/understanding-amazons-strategy.html
    Not off-topic, since ebook near-monopolies might soon have a dumbing-down effect on education in at least one American state, I think Texas.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. I do worry that we’re all being dumbed down by the technology. I’ve noted, for example, that the tendency is to get caught up in the treadmill of news to such an extent that people’s attention spans are shrinking, so that what happened in the morning – however significant – is soon overshadowed by whatever the hell it is that’s being reported in the afternoon. I also fear that, with the ongoing demise of printed books, people are generally reading books less than they used to, and the dumbing down will inevitably follow. I think this is related to the problems with social networks, in that they encourage us to have short attention spans.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Here’s what I heard about that American State. It seems that Apple and the State’s Board of Education have or were about to, make a deal. Many students will be given IPads, for free or at a low price. The condition is, that the student’s IPads be used for approved textbooks only. Maybe other sorts of material can be seen, according to this deal, but I don’t know. I don’t know if this deal went through, since I only heard or read one report on it. But I did ask myself who will write such books, who will sell them (or give the students rights to read them for free), and who will determine or approve their contents. Control of all this can be enforced by electronic systems going under the anodyne rubric DRM = Digital Rights Management. Here’s Charlie Stross’ description of that: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/04/more-on-drm-and-ebooks.html
    I hope I was having a nightmare when I seemed to hear this.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t know what to think, George. Obviously the tension between the web’s inbuilt freedom and the desires of corporations to make money will continue in various ways, and the things you mention fit perfectly into that scenario. Mainly, though, I fear that people will generally read less and less. In my writing, for example, I never know how many people just read the short intros I write on Facebook rather than the article they link to, and on Twitter, of course, people’s attention spans have been reduced to 140 characters. Depth? Nuance? Detail? I think not …

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, I also posted the photo of the Woolwich Dockyard (east), and wrote:

    This is one of my favourite photos from my latest photo set – one of the last remnants, geographically, of the original Woolwich Dockyard, which opened exactly 600 years ago. There are two docks, both neglected, and between them some derelict buildings where, inappropriately I think, plans are underway for a 16-storey block of flats. Primarily, though, I found myself enchanted by this dock.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Loyad Grove wrote:

    Andy Why don’t you do A Story on the Corporate STATE Sponsored Economic~Terrorism Brought to you By the Corporate Rich Terrorists and their Corporate Politicians .$. Corporate STATE Sponsored Raping, Pillaging and Plundering the Worlds Poor and Homless Poeple and Our Children would make A Great story .!. What do you think ?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher John Webster wrote:

    really good shots Andy Worthington….

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Chris. I hope you know that means a lot to me! And Loyad, I try to cover aspects of what you’re talking about through my work on Guantanamo and the “war on terror” – a part of that corporate terrorism you mention. However, I have a hard time even keeping up with my own core topics, so I’ll have to defer to others to cover other aspects of what you mentioned, but I’m sure people get the message that everything is connected.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote, in response to 9, above:

    Indeed. Reports vary. Some say that in some sense reading has increased, but they fail to say what kinds of reading has increased. Others say it’s decreased. My guess is that these reports (there are many) are based on numbers of books read, and aren’t carefully categorised. I worry about this a lot, but since much of what I see is anecdotal, opinionated, or based on stats that are mentioned but not linked to, I don’t know what to think either.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    Clouds reflected in puddles, is wonderful… very paint worthy 🙂 I like the solitude, the path heading into the mysterious unknown and the sky joining the ground in the reflection. I wonder more and more about reflections. Is this life one giant-bouncing-flowing reflection of consciousness?

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, let’s keep monitoring the situation, George. My fear remains that we have entered the era of the soundbite, and that it will further encourage the infantilisation of political thought, which is already prevalent in the way that broadcasters behave as though everyone’s opinion is valid, whether informed or not. You know the kind of thing, I’m sure, when a TV reporter heads into a shopping centre, and asks random shoppers what they think about events in the news, regardless of whether or not these people have any basis for their opinions.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I think you would like the liminal nature of the path from Woolwich to Thamesmead, Jennah. As for your more profound spiritual questions, I don’t know the answer, but I always felt that there was a fundamental truth about animism.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    Indeed, soundbite era it is. It’s impossible for me to understand how that originated. I guess part of it has to do with poor education. I give part of the blame there to emphases on skills over knowledge that lets you use skills and think about them. That’s one result of the ‘New Math’ and the abolition of required courses at colleges and universities in the US and, in my later experience, in Holland. I find it harder and harder to communicate at length with younger people, for the most part. There are exceptions right here, but they are at least partly self-taught. On FB I refuse to indulge in one-liners or ‘inspirational’ statements, but prefer to explain and relate what I know or believe. I’m not going to compromise on that, and can adjust my style yo some contexts. Finally, it *does* lead to infantilisation, since I see smart friends whom I’ve known for nearly 50 years posting cartoons about one or the other candidate. I must say though, that the people at ATOS MIRACLES are doing a great job of digging deep into various subjects. I do not see that online from many others. I am glad that I helped supply some initial data.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George. I think the artificial urgency of modern life is also part of the problem. It worries me that, if those who are politicized are falling for the endless novelty of permanently breaking news, and are losing their ability to dwell on topics of importance for any length of time, then we are heading to a time and place where knee-jerk responses and propaganda will reign unchecked.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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