An Ipswich Society trip, 16th September 2013
An 8am start and down to Mucking, a suitable name, you might think, for the
century-old London landfill site; however, the name derives from the
Anglo-Saxon "Mucca's enclosure" and the area has been occupied since the
Stone Age. Landfill ceased in 2010; since then the site has been capped
(methane gas), grassed over and transformed into Thurrock Thameside Nature
Park. Cory, the owners, contributed towards the cost (£1.96 million)
of building the Visitor Centre and associated infrastructure. By 2016 the
park should extend to 845 acres. The Centre was designed by Van Heyningen
and Haward (the latter, Birkin Haward's son) and it includes sustainable
features including recycled car tyres for the roof covering.
The foundations can be adjusted, by means of jacks, to account for 'land
movement', i.e. sinking, and the whole structure 'floats'. It was certainly
bright and breezy on the roof, with magnificent views down the Thames
estuary towards Southend. From the bird-hide our other guide talked about
the DP World London Gateway Port which, with the wide river and dredged
channels downstream, will be a serious rival to Felixstowe Docks. It will be
able to accommodate the world's latest, largest and deepest container-ships.
All of this site is on a SSSI and SPA (Special Protection Area); the
extensive mudflats and saltings attract tens of thousands of wildfowl and
waders on migration from the north in winter.
'Crossing the Thames' or 'The
Thames Crossings': London's ever-increasing traffic demands more bridges and
tunnels. A brief stop at Beckton to view a possible site for a bridge; the
structure's height would be limited by the nearby City Airport. On to
Docklands where we 'flew' over the river in Emirates cable cars (maximum
capacity 10): a panoramic but scarily lofty view. Then lunch and a stroll in
the vast O2.
Via Greenwich to Rotherhithe - Anglo-Saxon for 'cattle harbour', where they
were fattened up for market on the lush grass. At the Brunel Museum we were
met by the museum's manager, our guide. We stopped outside St Mary's Church
and saw a plaque commemorating the Mayflower, which sailed from here in 1620
on the first leg of her epic voyage to the New World. Between converted
warehouses, now upmarket flats, to view Tower Bridge and the Upper Pool of
the Thames. We heard about its insalubrious past, when the sewage went
straight into the river - hence the Great Stench of the 1850s, before
Bazalgette constructed the sewer system which is still in use today. We also
heard about the lucrative trade in fishing bodies from the river and selling
them to hospitals on the south bank. All very Dickensian!
Back to the Museum, via awkward steps, an entrance where you had to bend
double, down a steel staircase and into the Tunnel Shaft. Apparently, we
were among the first people for 150 years to be in there. Our guide gave us
a fascinating and entertaining history of the 1825 Thames Tunnel. The shaft
had been constructed above ground, then the earth had been dug away so that
the shaft sank until level with the ground; it weighed 1,000 tons. Marc
Brunel and his brilliant, famous son Isambard Kingdom, worked on that
revolutionary design and eventually their men dug a tunnel under the Thames.
It took eighteen years, cost lives and didn't make any money; in 1869 it was
sold for underground train use; we could hear the rumble of nearby trains.
It is the oldest tunnel in the oldest underground system in the world and is
now an International Landmark site.
All over the world, every underground
system owes its existence to the engineering skills and the genius of the
Brunels who pioneered the 'tunnel shield' system based on the technique of
the shipworm, which excretes the wood it tunnels through and uses that to
line the tunnel behind it. Briefly, a rectangular frame with 36 cells, each
holding a man with a pick and shovel; as the men dug, the shield was moved
forward with bricklayers following behind to shore up the tunnel and prevent
it collapsing in on itself.
A quick look at the museum and a welcome cup of tea before the long trek
home. Fifty-two members - a coachful - owe their thanks to John Norman for a
unique and engrossing outing and to Paul, our driver.
[A similar trip on 12 May 2014 is fully subscribed. Contact the Secretary
for waiting-list places. Editor]
Cover, issue 194