urban75 walk club: London Capital Ring, Woolwich to Falconwood
Report by urban75 editor, Feb 2005
The wintery walk was along Stage One of the London Capital Ring, taking us from the banks of the Thames at Woolwich to Falconwood, via Woolwich Common, Eltham Common and Oxleas Wood
The Capital Ring is a new walking path within London, created in 2002-03 from a proposal drawn up in 1990. Designed to circle inner London, the walk starts and finishes at the Thames, and is roughly 75 miles long.
Walking through the High Street hell of Woolwich
I'd never been to Woolwich before and was quite interested to see what the town had to offer.
Sadly, it was a bitter disappointment - rarely have I seen such a drearily homogenised High Street, with every single shop front a bland, faceless chain store.
The area never really recovered after the loss of its shipyard, with Darcus Howe describing it as "one of the darkest places in Britain today".
I suspect he's getting a tad carried away (after all, he was equally dramatic about the Brixton block of flats I live in, wishing that they would disappear 'in a mushroom of smoke').
Underwhelming Woolwich street market
The place was redeemed slightly by having a street market, but it was a bit of a bleak affair shunted into an unattractive, windswept location.
Established by royal charter in 1619, Woolwich Market was relocated in 1888 and it's now a bit of a down-at-heel affair, with optimistic stalls flogging fluffy toilet covers, £5 watches, cheap clothes and England football towels. An unpleasant-smelling burger van sizzled away in the background.
Group shot outside the pub
Things got considerably better when I made it to the meet-up pub in Hare Street.
The pub - offering a fine range of real ales - boasts the strange distinction of having two names, being known as both the 'Prince Albert' and 'Rose's'.
Whatever it was called, I can report that it was a classic old-school boozer with a friendly atmosphere, time-worn upholstery, odd bits of tack on the wall and a barrel-shaped dog of considerable vintage.
The start of the walk
The walk 'officially' started in the borough of Greenwich, close to the southern terminus of the Woolwich Ferry.
Our guide for the day, Hollis immediately pulled out an alarmingly large wodge of photocopied paper and started to point out items of historical note. At length.
Abandoned shopping trolleys
Difficult thought it was to pull myself away from Hollis's compelling ten page lecture, I wandered off to snap this shot of abandoned shopping trolleys dumped in the murky Thames.
Tate and Lyle factory
Looking across the Thames, a thumping great ship can be seen unloading at the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery factory in Silvertown.
Tate started his sugar cube-tastic shenanigans in 1878 while Lyle was busy cooking up his gorgeous Golden Syrup in 1881. The two merged in in 1921.
Closed pub, Woolwich Dockyard
This pub stands by the old entrance to the once famous Woolwich Dockyard.
Henry VIII established the Royal Dockyard at Woolwich in 1512-13, choosing to build his largest warship there, the Henri Grâce à Dieu or the Great Harry.
Elizabeth I maintained the naval connection with the addition of a ropeyard nearby in 1574.
As British maritime activity grew in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Royal Dockyards continued to build important warships, but as the ships got larger, the Thames became too shallow for them to navigate.
Large ships headed for Woolwich often had to have their guns and stores removed at Northfleet to reduce their draft before sailing up the Thames.
Despite dabbling with new-fangled steam engine technology and the addition of a new purpose-built steam basin and additional slips 1831 the Woolwich yard closed in 1869.
Deer, Maryon Wilson Park
This small landscaped park in Charlton features a city farm with ducks, geese, chickens a pig, and even a deer enclosure.
Maryon Wilson Park was once part of the ancient forest known as Hanging Wood, with a reputation as a good hiding place for highwaymen (and reputedly feared by Samuel Pepys when he went to Woolwich).
The wood was part of the estate of the Maryon Wilson family who gave the land over to become a public open space. It was opened by the London County Council in 1926.
Through Charlton Park
Walking through Charlton Park, a large, level, open and grassy park boasting Charlton House, one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture.
The park hosts several football and rugby pitches and masses of burly all-weather rugger chaps were running around in the freezing winter chill.
Hornfair Park, Charlton
Hornfair Park was created from part of the grounds of the old manor of Charlton, and was opened in 1935.
The park is named after the medieval Charlton Horn Fair described in the early 18th century as consisting of "a riotous mob, who, after a printed summons dispersed through the adjacent towns, meet at Cuckold's Point, near Deptford, and march from thence in procession through that town and Greenwich to Charlton, with horns of different kinds on their heads; and at the fair there are sold ram's horns, and every sort of toy made of horn; even the gingerbread figures have horns."
At this point it started to snow, but Hollis resolutely stuck to his multiple-page explanation, with dramatic pauses as the correct page was located.
His flow was occasionally interrupted by a stream of corrections from a fellow, well-prepared walker, toting several weighty tomes of local history.
Across Woolwich Common
The Common is a large exposed area, bordered by the Royal Military Academy on its south east flank, a handsome building with four domed turrets. The Academy was established as early as 1719, but the present building was not erected till 1805.
Water tower and clouds
Silhouetted against a dramatic winter sky is the water tower of the former Brook Hospital, on the south side of Shooter's Hill Road.
The hospital was one of a group of fever hospitals erected by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in the 1890s. The facility closed in 1995 and is (predictably) being turned into a development of luxury flats named 'Brook Village'.
The Red Lion, 6 Red Lion Place
After walking for some five miles in freezing weather, it was a joy to find this pub.
Moreover, they served up some absolutely delicious, no nonsense cheese and tomato crusty rolls, which was exactly what my rumbling stomach needed.
Note the a sea food stall parked outside. Squidgy creatures from the deep isn't my bag, but apparently the cold, salty fare was much to some of my fellow walker's liking.
Located right outside the pub, the common is a mix of woodland and an open grassy area, forming part of the ancient Oxleas Woodland.
The Grade II listed building was designed by architect Richard Jupp in 1784 as a lasting monument to the courageous seafarer, Sir William James.
The building is triangular with three towers around the edge and was commissioned by the widow of Sir William James Bart to celebrate his achievements.
The name comes from an Indian fortress used by pirates who had their arses well and truly kicked by James in 1755.
In the last century, Severndroog Castle has served as a tourist attraction, with the tower sporting a delightful tearoom from 1921.
The London Borough of Greenwich took ownership in 1986 and promptly closed the building two years later.
Since then it has fallen into disrepair, although there are restoration plans afoot.
Severndroog Castle grounds
Just below the castle, to the south, there's a formal garden affording superlative views over London.
Sunset over Oxleas Meadows
With the sun setting over the meadows, our walk was nearly over.
Ten minutes later we were at Falconwood station for the train back to London, ready for a night on the town!