Posts Tagged ‘Kent’

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent 2015

Thursday, June 6th, 2024

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent: I visited and photographed the Swanscombe peninsula in the 1980s as a part of an extensive project along the south bank of the River Thames east of London, returning occasionally over the years, particularly in the 2000s when I documented the building of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which crosses under the river here.

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent

Back in the 1980s there was still a large cement industry here. But it was here that Portland Cement became the centre of the UK cement industry, with huge quarries digging out the chalk, often 100ft thick here, leaving huge gaps in the landscape. But most of these quarries were now worked out and the industry was fast declining and has now all gone.

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent

On my 2015 post Swanscombe on My London Diary you can read more about the industry. The Swanscombe cement plant was the l argest in the UK from 1840 until 1930, but was largely derelict when I took pictures in the ’80s though it only finally closed in 1990. That at neighbouring Northfleet, was only fully developed in 1970, although cement production had begun there in 1796. That site, the last working cement plant in the area, closed in 2008 was cleared and its landmark chimneys demolished in 2009-10.

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent

Chalk had been quarried to within a few feet of the main A226 London Road and in some places on both sides of the road, leaving it running on a narrow spine of chalk.

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent

From the road the Pilgrims Road leads down steeply to Swanscombe marshes, with some industrial developments in the former chalk pits on both sides.

Swanscombe Peninsula Kent

Kent Wildlife Trust describe the marshes as “Home to a remarkable mosaic of grasslands, coastal habitats, brownfield features, scrub and wetland” and I certainly found it a remarkable area both in the 1980s and in later visits – the last a year or so ago. My pictures more reflect an interest in industrial archaeology rathe than nature.

In 2012 plans were announced to turn 216 hectares of this site into a theme park, at first with the support of Paramount Pictures who withdrew their support for Paramount Park in 2017 with the proposed park being renamed London Resort. Paramount are also taking London Resort to the High Court over a financial deal after the London Resort was in danger of going bust, although they still apparently have an interest in providing content based on their block-buster films.

In 2015 it looked likely that Paramount Park would go ahead in the relatively near future, prompting me to get on my bike and revisit the area. In the post on My London Diary I give some details about my route. I think all of the site is privately owned but back then much was still open to the public to wander around. Since then there have been more fences and notices restricting public access but there is also a new section of the England Coast Path opened at the start of 2022 through here.

The English Resort plans are still in limbo and the planning permission has lapsed, although the company still believe they will go ahead at some time, others feel the project is dead. Development of the site became more complicated when it was declared as an SSSI on account of its jumping spiders in 2021, and its financial prospects are threatened by Universal Studios consideration to build a rival resort in the former brickworks near Bedford. And its unclear if there would be the money to go ahead.

Dartford Council has withdrawn its support for the project, as has the local MP, but it remains to be seen what attitude a new government will take towards the plans. Campiagners against it, including the council have called for it to lose its Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project status which would almost certainly be its death knell.

Of course this doesn’t mean that this remarkable piece of nature is safe from development, and if London Resort is ended parts of the area are likely to be developed for housing as prime riverside sites, though hopefully much will remain.

More at Swanscombe.


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Sweeps Festival – Rochester, Kent – 2011

Thursday, May 2nd, 2024

Sweeps Festival – Rochester, Kent: I’d always avoided festivals like the Dickens Festival and Sweeps Festival at Rochester. Somehow these events seemed to be synthetic rather than authentic unlike the older carnivals, some of which still take place, though there are far fewer than twenty or thirty years ago – when my local carnival petered out.

Sweeps Festival - Rochester, Kent

The Rochester festivals are very much recent sponsored promotions of tourism to the town and the Medway area, although the Sweeps festival claims to dates back over 400 years, when child chimney sweeps celebrated May Day, said to have been their one day off in the year, and came into town to make the most of it with a great deal of mischief and mayhem.

Sweeps Festival - Rochester, Kent

The free Sweeps festival was actually founded in 1981 and lasts three days – in 2024 it begins on Saturday 4th May and ends on Bank Holiday Monday, May 6th. It has managed to continue while cuts in government funding have resulted in others being abandoned. It is very different now from its supposed origins, with folk groups and Morris dancers coming from around the country to perform to thousands of visitors.

Sweeps Festival - Rochester, Kent

Working with my friend, photographer John Benton-Harris on book projects I had seen his pictures of the event, and in 2011 he twisted my arm to get me to accompany him to the festival. We met at London Bridge station and took the train for the roughly 75 minute journey to Rochester.

Sweeps Festival - Rochester, Kent

It wasn’t the happiest of days for either of us. John lost his wallet which fell out of his pocket in a café and had disappeared by the time he realised and returned to look for it, and I managed to poke myself in the eye with the slanted end of a nylon camera strap that turned out to be remarkably sharp, after which everything seen through my normal camera eye was rather a blur. I still managed to take a great many pictures.

The best part of the day for me was actually the train journeys there and back with John where we had some stimulating conversations, with both of us enjoying a good argument about photography and photographers. He had a phenomenal knowledge of photographers and photography in New York where he had grown up and known many in person – which powered the iconic 1985 Barbican show and book American Images: Photography 1945-1980 , but he failed to appreciate many of the later photographers I admired.

When I wrote briefly about the festival on My London Diary I noted that “what seems to be entirely missing are the kind of drunken orgies that used to mark the spring festival. Or perhaps I was just in the wrong place? ” For all the unusual costumes and masks somehow the festival did seem rather tame, lacking any of the kind of energy that makes Notting Hill carnival so special. But it was also very much kinder on the ears, almost entirely acoustic and never reaching the intense high horsepower decibel levels of Ladbroke Grove.

We were there on Monday 2nd May 2011, the final day of the three day festival, as I hadn’t been prepared to miss the London May Day march the previous day or the protest in Brighton on the Saturday and had thought that the final procession would be worth photographing. But as I commented “What I hadn’t realised was that relatively few of the dancers stay on for the final day, and although the procession was interesting, it was considerably smaller than I expected.”

Given the circumstances I think I managed fairly well with my pictures, but I don’t think either John or I made any pictures that would stand among our best. Following his untimely death last August his own personal website is now offline, but you can see some of his work at the Mary Evans picture library (click on the image to see more) – but nothing there from his many visits to Rochester, nor in the 2021 Huck Feature or his APAG entry. Still online are a few of his critical articles which give a good idea of his thinking on photography on his The Photo Pundit blog.

John thought highly of some of his pictures from previous Rochester festivals and included around 15 of them in the roughly 150 images in his unpublished ‘Mad Hatters – a diary of a secret people‘, a book of his pictures of the English which I helped him produce. I worked on all the pictures and gave him a great deal of advice of which he very occasionally took notice.

I resisted later attempts to go to Rochester with him for this and other festivals there, and should I go back again its likely to be on a day without the festival crowds. Rochester does seem a very interesting historic town and there are some great places to walk in the area.

More pictures on My London Diary at Rochester Sweeps Festival.


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Vaisakhi in Gravesend – 2012

Sunday, April 14th, 2024

Vaisakhi in Gravesend – Saturday14 April 2012: Gravesend is in Kent around 20 miles east of London on the River Thames and home to around 15,000 Sikhs in a population of just over 100,000. The first Gurdwara opened here in 1956 but in November 2010 a splendid new Gurdwara was opened, the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara. This is said to be the largest Gurdwara in Europe and one of the largest outside India and cost £12 million, financed by donations.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

The temple is on a large site around half a mile east of the railway station and I arrived too late to make a tour of the place as the Nagar Kirtan procession was getting ready to start.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

I took a short look inside then went back outside to photograph the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Scriptures) being carried out ceremonially to be put inside a model of the Golden Temple of Amritsar on one of the floats at the head of the procession.

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

Vaisakhi in Gravesend

There were lengthy prayers outside the Gurdwara before five Khalsa, baptised Sikh men in saffron robes carrying Sikh standards and five more with raised swords representing the Panj Pyare baptised at Ananpundur in 1699 by the last living human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Sahib, the founding of the ‘Khalsa’ took their place in the procession behind an open lorry carrying a large Nagara drum and its beaters.

Behind them was the Guru Granth Sahib and then the walking congregation (Sangat) led by Punjabi School children, then the women and after them men, along with several vehicles carrying the elderly.

The Gurdwara also has various cultural, social and sports groups, including Bhangra music and dance groups, the Guru Nanak Football Club and children from local primary schools and lorries carrying some of these made up the end of the procession.

I hadn’t arrived early enough to visit the Langer, but as the procession made its way around the centre of Gravesend there were a number of stalls handing out free vegetarian food and drink. I enjoyed some delicious vegetable curry with a strong mint flavour as well as some very sweet chai and a couple of vegetable samosas, but there were also plenty of treats for the children, lollipops, soft drinks and sweets.

Shri Guru Ravidass Gurdwara in Brandon Street

Close to the very much smaller Shri Guru Ravidass Gurdwara in Brandon Street there was a large crowd waiting to see the procession and more people handing out free food. I paid a very brief visit to see the interior of this temple.

The procession was going back towards the Gurdwara when I waited to see the end of it go past before going to catch a train. The celebrations were to continue the following day with a religious service in the Gurdwara.

Many more pictures at Gravesend Vaisakhi.


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Hastings Old Town Carnival – Hastings, Kent

Sunday, August 20th, 2023

Hastings Old Town Carnival: On Saturday 20th August 2005 I went to Hastings to photograph the carnival there. I’ve never really been that interested in carnivals like this, but several of my friends are and have carried out projects on the English Carnival.

Hastings Old Town Carnival

I think you can blame Tony Ray Jones for this, as before his tragically early death only 30 in 1972 he had photographed a number of them around the country in the late 1960s, with some of the pictures being amount the 120 images published in the posthumous book ‘A Day Off – An English Journal’ published in 1974.

Hastings Old Town Carnival

This volume was arguably the most influential English photographic book of the 1970s, with a copy on every youngish photographer’s bookshelf, including my own. You will be lucky to find a secondhand copy now for less than £100, although there are now much better printed and selected and more informative books on his work available, but all rather expensive. Probably the best is that produced for the 2004 show at the Museum of Photography, Film & Television in Bradford, ‘Tony Ray-Jones’, by Russell Roberts. Digital scans then enabled rather better prints to be made from some of his negatives.

Hastings Old Town Carnival

The best way to see examples of his work on the web is to use Google’s image search and put in his name, Tony Ray Jones, which will turn up pictures from various web sites, as I don’t think there is any single site with more than a handful of examples of his work.

Hastings Old Town Carnival

Ray Jones is better known now, but for many years was a ‘photographers’ photographer’ and little known particularly outside the UK. In 2005 I gave a talk at the first FotoFestival in Bielsko-Biala in Poland in which I looked at his work along with that of another British photographer, Ray Moore. Sitting in the audience was the director of the Krakow Photomonth who told me afterwards that he hadn’t really known either of their work. In 2010 a show of the work of Tony Ray Jones was the major show of the main programme on British Photography. Though I was also offered a show in Krakow that never materialised.

I was influenced by both of those two British photographers, as well as others. And one of my major projects was sparked by a single image in A Day Off, of the London May Queen Festival. You can see the results in the preview of my Blurb book London May Queens – and there is a nice selection on Lensculture.


My own tastes in carnival were directed largely towards Notting Hill, which I photographed regularly for around 20 years. You can see some of my pictures from there as well as carnival pictures by of some of my friends on the web site from a show we put on at the Shoreditch Gallery in 2008. But the picture above was from Hastings.

The pictures here are all from my second visit to this carnival in Hastings on 20th August 2005, but there are also some from the previous year on My London Diary. I don’t think I’ve been back since.

More on this and another couple of other carnivals on the August 2005 page of My London Diary, with links to many more pictures.


Darent Valley Path & Thames

Tuesday, July 4th, 2023

Darent Valley Path & Thames, Dartford, Kent. On Saturday 4th July 2015 I went by train with my wife and elder son to Dartford for a day’s walking mainly beside the River Darent and River Thames.

Darent Valley Path & Thames

It was a hot summer day and the sky was blue with just a few small patches of white cloud. It probably wasn’t the best day to have chosen, as this was a walk with relatively little shade, but as usual there was a little breeze by the rivers to cool us slightly.

Darent Valley Path & Thames

I’d walked (and cycled) along the paths we took several times before, first in the 1980s, but they were new to my companions. After taking a short look at the Darent in Dartford we made our way to Hythe Street. Its name means a landing place or small port, and the Darent was once an important navigation at least as far as the mills in the centre of Dartford. The has been a pub here since 1764 and the Hufflers Arms gets its name from the men who guided and pulled the barges up the river to here.

Darent Valley Path & Thames

A footbridge takes the path across the Darent here, and past the backs of some industrial sites on towards the half-lock which stopped the river above it drying out at low tide, long derelict. It was something of a surprise to see a narrow boat moored close to it.

Darent Valley Path & Thames

There has been a huge change here since 2015, with volunteers working on and around the lock and the river. You can read more about the work of the Dartford and Crayford Creek Restoration Trust on the Facebook page of the Friends of Dartford and Crayford Creek, and see some of the changes in the pictures there.

Darent Valley Path & Thames

Later in the day I photographed a yacht making its way through the flood barrier from the Thames and going upriver. I heard afterwards that it had reached the recent bridge under the Bob Dunn Way bypass when the tide was just a fraction too high for it to creep underneath with its mast lowered.

The Thames is pretty wide here and the channel deep enough to take fairly large ships, with the ferries including the ship in the picture operating regular contianer services to Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.

I made a few panoramic images, but the sky was a little empty and blue for it really to be a good day for that. This one which shows my two companions walking on ahead is interesting to me as I have managed to make use of the curvature inherent in these very wide angle views. The path on which I was standing to make the image was more or less straight, though in the picture it seems to bend at roughly a right angle.

The Littlebrook Power Station had only recently ceased operation, and we walked past some interesting structures there before making our way under the Dartford Bridge.

I was pleased that the ferry was leaving and I was able to take a series of photographs of it going under the bridge and sailing on downriver. Some of the pictures give a better impression of the relative heights of ship and bridge with an enormous amount of headroom for the passage.

By now I was getting tired, mainly from the heat and the lack of any shade, and I took few pictures on the rest of the walk to the station at Greenhithe. We didn’t see any sign of the path marked on the map which would have taken us up to the church at Stone as I had planned, but I think I was releived not to have had to climb up the hill, and perhaps didn’t look too hard. After all I’d been there and taken pictures on various occasions before. And if you are walking this way it’s worth the detour.

More about the walk and more pictures at Darent Valley Path & Thames.


Estuary

Tuesday, May 16th, 2023

Ten years ago on Thursday 16th May 2013 I was pleased to attend the opening of the exhibition Estuary, held to mark the 10th anniversary of the Museum of London Docklands at West India Quay, a short walk from Canary Wharf. I was delighted to be one of the dozen artists in various media to be included, with ten of my panoramic images from my work on the north and south banks of the Thames.

Estuary opening

I’d begun photographing the lower reaches of the Thames back in the 1980s, then working largely in black and white and my work concentrated on the then fast disappearing industrial sites along the river. At first I worked on the Kent bank on the south of the river, having a particular interest in the cement industry that occupied and had radically changed much of area between Dartford and Gravesend. Later I also worked along the north bank.

Estuary
Cement works, Northfleet, 2000

Estuary is a term that has various definitions, and both its upstream and downstream limits have, as Wikipedia states, “been defined differently at different times and for different purposes.” For my own purposes it has been rather elastic, usually beginning at the Thames Barrier and going east as far as it was convenient to travel by public transport, on foot or by bicycle from convenient stations. In earlier years I went further along the Kent bank by car in some outings with friends including Terry King as far as Sheppey.

Estuary
Cement works, Northfleet, 2000

The exhibition had come as a surprise. The ten picture in it were from around a hundred images the Museum of London had bought from various of my projects for its collection a few years earlier and I think the first I knew about it was when I received the invitation to the opening, or perhaps by an email a couple of weeks before that.

Estuary
Greenhithe, 2000

These pictures all dated from the early years of this century, those from Kent in 2000 and from Essex in 2004 and all were in panoramic format. In 2000 I was working with two swing lens cameras, a Japanese Widelux F8 and a much cheaper Russian Horizon 202. Both work with rotating lens and a curved film plane, invented by give Friedrich von Martens in his Megaskop-Kamera in 1844, but instead of the daguerrotype plates he worked with use standard 35mm film, producing negatives around 56x24mm.

Chafford Hundred, 2004

The two cameras have a similar field of view horizontally around 130 degrees and have a cylindrical perspective which renders lines parallel to the film edges straight but gives an increasing curvature to horizontal lines away from the centre of the image. The image quality of the two is very similar but the cheaper camera has a rather more useful viewfinder.

Dagenham, 2004

By 2004 I had two further pieces of equipment which extended my panoramic photography. One was a new camera, the Hassleblad X-Pan, which had generally received rave reviews. I found it rather disappointing at first and it was only after I added the 30mm wideangle lens that it became useful for me. The X-Pan is a standard rectilinear camera design but gives negatives 65x24mm rather than the normal full-frame 36x24mm. The horizontal angle of view it produces with the 30mm is at the limits of rectilinear perspective, before stretching at the edges becomes too apparent, and is considerably less than the swing lens cameras at 94 degrees. The lens comes with a separate viewfinder that fits on the top of the camera, but does make operation a little less convenient.

West Thurrock, 2005

The second, and very important for working along the north bank was a Brompton folding bicycle, which enabled me to travel the greater distances needed there. Of course I also used this and the X-Pan for later pictures elsewhere.

Mucking, 2005

You can see more of these pictures in two sections of the Urban Landscapes web site, which also includes work by other photgraphers, both British and overseas. Some of the pictures I’ve chosen for today’s post were in the Estuary show, but others were not – I have a rather larger body of work to select from than the Museum, some of which appears in my book Thamesgate Panoramas.

Northfleet, 2000

The site has separate sections on the Thames Gateway in Essex and Kent, as well as from my Greenwich Meridian project in 1994-6 and a wider selection of panoramic work from around London from 1996-2005, though there is much more that I still have to put on-line. Some is also now on Flickr.


Coronation Time – 2013

Thursday, May 4th, 2023

Coronation Time - 2013
Elmers End May Queen and her retinue before the crowning

I’ve attended and photographed quite a few coronations, but will be having absolutely nothing to do with events this coming weekend. It appears to me an obscene waste of money, totally unnecessary spending which could be directed towards something far more worthwhile on a medieval relic that the country should have abandoned or hugely reformed years ago.

Coronation Time - 2013

I do remember the 1953 event, when we spent rather boring hours crammed into our neighbours front room facing a 9 inch screen on the black and white television their elder son had built from a kit. And a few days later our school’s classes were trooped along to the local cinema – appropriately The Regal – to watch it in colour. It had rained for the event and I think we also got wet queueing to be let in. I think few found the film of much interest.

Coronation Time - 2013

Of course there was a lot of ballyhoo back in 1953, but nothing like the prolonged media assault we are now seeing – our media have changed, and largely for the worst. And while some people held street parties I don’t think there were any in our London suburb.

Coronation Time - 2013

There was certainly a lot of talk then about a new “Elizabethan Era” but little came of it, though we were still slowly emerging from wartime austerity. For most children in the UK the more significant event of the Coronation year had been the end of sweet rationing several months earlier, though sugar, meat and some other foods remained on ration.

Back in 2004 or 2005 four pictures in the posthumous Tony Ray Jones book ‘A Day Off’ of May Queen festivals had come to my attention and I decided it might be an interesting area for a photographic project if these events were still taking place. A little research, mainly on-line told me that there were still some in various parts of London and that the picture showing young girls dancing around the maypole was, despite an incorrect caption, actually from the London May Queen event taking place annually on Hayes Common.

So in May 2005 I went to Hayes Common, very uncertain about what I would find, and also about how I would be received. Old men photographing young girls was by then a rather suspect activity, but I talked with some of the organisers and if not immediately gained their confidence. It was the start of a project over several years that attracted interest from the Museum of London, though in the end they pulled out from the show at late stage, though I think they did buy a few pictures.

It took several years of attending various crownings and other May Queen events, including a few unconnected with the London May Queen for me to build up a body of work and I extended the project a little longer than was necessary to include the crowning of the 100th London May Queen in 2012, publishing my book London’s May Queens later that year. Being publishing on demand this is now ridiculously expensive but the PDF version is reasonably priced. The preview there contains my short article about May Queens and quite a few pictures.

By 2013 I had finished the project, but was still receiving invitations to return to take pictures, and was pleased I had time to do so, not just for the Beckenham May Queens on Sataturday 4th May 2013, from which the pictures here come, but for the crowning of London’s 101st May Queen at Hayes the following Saturday. I think this was the last coronation I attended.

Many more pictures at Beckenham May Queens.


Brompton around Swanscombe 2015

Monday, June 6th, 2022

Brompton around Swanscombe 2015 – Late in 2002 I bought a Brompton folding bicycle, something I’d been considering for years, but the cost had put me off. I can’t remember exactly what it cost me then, but with a few essential bits and pieces it was around £700 – allowing for inflation now equivalent to around £1200. Bromptons (hereafter just B’s) now start at £850, even better value. In an interview a year or two later with a photographic magazine I was asked “What is your favourite photographic accessory?” and my answer, “My B” wasn’t what was expected.

I wasn’t new to cycling – I’d got my first two-wheeler back in 1951 and had owned and used bikes since then, but this was my first folding bike and was bought as a photographic accessory to enable me to explore areas in outer London and the outskirts where public transport was often in scarce supply.

I’d hoped also it would be a convenient way to get around when photographing various events in the centre of London, but soon gave up on that idea as finding safe places to leave it appeared impossible. Bs are idea for bike thieves. Relatively high value and much in demand, they can be stowed away in a car boot in seconds. And even the sturdiest bike lock can only hold up the well-equipped criminal for less than a minute.

Locking and leaving isn’t really an option unless you can keep it in sight or in a secure place. Office workers can keep them in cloakrooms or under their desks, but when your place of work is the street you have a problem.

For cycling close to home I still had the full-size Cinelli that my eldest brother had given me as a birthday present back in 1958, and despite being dirty, dilapidated and having suffered much downgraded with more robust and heavier wheels and tyres still rolling well. But the huge advantage of the B was that it could be folded and taken on trains, underground and even buses at any time, enabling me to make rides from places which were too far away for me to cycle to.

I made my first such journey back in January 2003, taking the train to Erith, a little over 30 miles away, and then spent a few hours cycling “around the town and along the Thames, Darent and Cray before braving the Dartford bypass and striking off along Joyce Green Lane before returning to catch the train home from Slade Green.” Much of that cycling was along footpaths and other poor surfaces and tiring enough – and at one point I almost collapsed trying to lift the B over a stile. I couldn’t understand why, as even with my photographic gear in the front bag it was probably less than 15kg. A week or two later I found out the reason, having a relatively mild heart attack at home which required some minor surgery to put a stent into a blocked artery.

As soon as I could walk, my doctor told me I had to exercise, and soon I was taking a series of rides from home on the B over much of the nearby country. It was much easier to mount and dismount than a normal men’s bike, having no crossbar. Scattered through My London Diary are pictures from a number of bike rides, mainly made on the B. On a bike you can stop almost anywhere and don’t need a place to park, and the ease of getting on and off makes a B ideal. At times I’ve also used it, parked against a wall to stand on, one foot on the saddle and the other on the handlebars, but it can roll away and leave you unsupported.

My trip around Swanscombe on Saturday 6th June was one such ride, taken while the area was under threat from development as the Paramount London theme park (and it still is though this now seems less likely.) It was an area I’d photographed on a number of occasions since the 1980s and knew reasonably well. In the 1970s, together with neighbouring Stone, Greenhithe, Swanscombe and Northfleet was the largest cement producing area in Europe, mainly run by Blue Circle. But by the time I first visited that production was centred at Northfleet, and the works at the other sites had largely disappeared or were very run down, and the Swanscombe works had ceased production although the site only finally closed in 1990. Northfleet continued for some years into this century, but nothing now remains – except of course the huge quarry areas with their chalk cliffs.

The post Swanscombe on My London Diary gives more of the history of the area, and also includes a fairly complete description of the route I took on Saturday 6th June 2015, so I won’t repeat that information here. The B isn’t a great off-road bike – and impossible in muddy conditions – but is fine on reasonable footpaths but I might had had to get off an push in some places. One of the paths I mention, Lovers Lane, is now a wide road beside a new housing estate but otherwise the area is much the same as it was in 2015 except there are now notices that some of the areas are private property.

The area is also well described in the many pictures, many of which were made with a very wide horizontal and vertical angle of view. Although not panoramic in format they are panoramic in their scope.

Swanscombe

Swanscombe Peninsula 2021

Saturday, October 16th, 2021

Pilgrims Rd (DS31)

A couple of days ago I walked around the Swanscombe peninsula together with two photographer friends and took some more pictures of the area.

Footpath (DS12)

I first went to Swanscombe back in 1985 as a part of my project on lower Thameside and in particular the area close to the river between Dartford and Cliffe. The area between the main road and the Thames had been one of a chalk hill leading to marshes, and the chalk had largely been quarried years ago after the invention of Portland Cement, with major factories producing it in Stone, Swanscombe and Northfleet.

By 1985, only the Northfleet factory was still in production, with just a few largely ruined buildings of the Swanscombe factory still standing. The ancient pathway of Pilgrims Road, by then just a footpath, ran down from the main road to the marsh on a narrow section of chalk which remained., and the floor of the former quarry to the east of this was occupied by various industrial sites.

Then you could wander fairly freely across the marsh where there were still the clear traces of its its former industrial use, with relics from the overhead cable and conveyor belt which took materials from the jetty to the works, and various heaps of waste materials. There are still a few sections of the railway lines that lead to the jetty, but much more of the land is now either fenced off or has recent notices prohibiting access.

There are several public footpaths through the area, and we took a route along most of them, although a part of one near the jetty appears to have been blocked and needed a slight detour. A new route going east beside the jetty and then alongside the river to the saltings had been approved as a part of the England Coast Path “from Autumn 2021” and we walked along this section of it, although I’m not sure if it is as yet officially open.

Although we took care not to go past any of the notices marking areas a private, we did find at one point as we walked past a notice that it claimed the track we had just been walking on was private. But by then it was too late, although of course we were doing no harm by walking along this unfenced path. One of the public footpaths (DS12) has a short section that is now totally overgrown, and we had to push our way through a few yards of rather boggy reeds to keep within its fenced route. We ended out walk at Greenhithe, which had two pubs but virtually no beer or food and caught the train to Darford for a meal.

Since 2021 the area has been under threat of a planned development as London Resort, 535 acres of a “world class, sustainable, next generation entertainment resort on the bank of the River Thames” and a kind of London equivalent to Disneyland, with a theme park, hotels with 3,500 beds, jetties on both the north and south bank of the river and a new road connection from the A2.

Although this would provide new jobs, there has been considerable opposition to the scheme, particularly as it would threaten the huge diversity – the area is home to many plant species and bees, butterflies, beetles, cuckoos and marsh lizards, more than any other brownfield site in the UK, and is one of only two places where the critically dendangered Distinguished jumping spider (Attulus distinguendus) is found. Following a request by the Save Swanscombe Marshes campaign the area was declared a site of special scientific intrest (SSSI) by Natural England who describled it as “one of the richest known sites in England for invertebrates”.

Many new housing estates have been developed in the surrounding areas since 1985 and others are likely to be built on various quarry areas in the region. It would be a great shame to lose this important area of green riverside space to the proposed development. Leisure doesn’t need theme parks.

More pictures on Facebook at Swanscombe October 2021.


8th May

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

Maypole Dance, Hayes, 2012

I sat for some time wondering what to write about today. Perhaps the obvious choice would be to point out that this is the 76th anniversary of VE Day – and I did attend some events to mark the 60th anniversary back in 2005, both on Saturday May 7th in Ilford and May 8th in Bromley. Sixty years on from the event itself, this was probably the last occasion when a significant number of actual veterans were still around in their 80s and 90s and able to take part.

‘Little Sanctum’, Hayes, 2005

But looking at the pictures I found it too depressing – and things now have got even worse when with none left who actually fought in WW2 to provide some realism celebrations related to the war have grown more militaristic and jingoistic, more based more on the propaganda of films and TV series and the claim “two world wars and one world cup” than the reality of a fight against fascism – and where Little Englander views have defeated the vision of a united Europe, particularly in the Brexit campaign.

Hayes, 2010

I needed something to cheer me up a little, so instead some pictures from the London May Queen crowning which takes place around this time of year on the second Saturday in May, which in 2010 was May 8th. It was an unusual year in that the weather was terrible, with cold driving rain making the usual outdoor ceremonies on Hayes Common and the parade around the village impracticable, and the event took place with a smaller number taking part inside the crowded village hall. So I’ve added a couple of pictures from other years which show a more normal view of the day.

Hayes, 2010

I’ve written about the event – with help from some of those involved – in various posts on My London Diary, and also in the book, London May Queens, still available as a reasonably priced download or expensively in print from Blurb. Getting to know some of the organisers and taking an interest in the history of the event enabled me to overcome some of the now inevitable suspicions around a male photographer photographing young girls and I was there in 2008 by invitation of some of the mothers involved.

Hayes, 2010

May Queens have a long history, although the traditional May festivities were rather different and bacchanalian. Like many English traditions, this was revived in a bowdlerised form by the Victorians, largely as a festival for children and young people. The ‘Merrie England And London May Queen Festival’ came a little later, founded in 1913 by Joseph Deedy, a master at Dulwich School, and at its peak, I think in the 1930s, involved 120 ‘realms’ from different areas mainly around south London each with their own May Queen, with well over a thousand children coming together for the crowning of the London May Queen at Hayes.

Hayes, 2010

Deedy wrote some rather quaint texts which are still used in the various stages of the ceremonies around Hayes, as well as setting the general principles and rules for the realms and the event. Girls work their way up through the organisation based on length of service, progressing though various roles, first in the local realms, and then in the London May Queen group. They can join from age three, and can remain involved until they are 18. Organisers see it as a way of encouraging social skills and developing self-confidence in the girls who take part. They often take part in local fetes, visits to care homes, and other activities as well as enjoying tea parties. The crowning of the London May Queen is the culmination of a series of events on previous Saturdays when the different realms crown their own Queens.

Hayes, 2010

Working inside the crowded hall in 2008 was difficult, but I was pleased to have the opportunity, and it provided some variety in my coverage of the event – as did the various crowning events in some of the local realms. Covid will doubtless have prevented the 2010 and 2021 events taking place but I hope it will resume for 2022. It’s a charming survival from an earlier age and one which invokes a community spirit which enriches local life.

Hayes, 2008

There are too many posts on My London Diary featuring May Queen Events between 2005 and 2013 to list them all, but you can find them easily on the web site as they are all on the pages from April and May. Here are just a few of them.

London May Queen 2005
London May Queen 2008
Merrie England & London May Queen 2010
London Crowns 100th May Queen 2012
London’s 101st May Queen 2013
I posted even more pictures than usual from these events as I wanted to share them with those who had taken part and tried to include everyone in the pictures.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.