The London Marathon is the best day of the year in this part of south-east London, right? So wouldn’t it be great if there was another one?
And no, not the return of Run to the Beat.
Just announced today, and coming on 4 March 2018, is The Big Half – a half-marathon using the central chunk of the London Marathon course. It’ll start at Tower Bridge, wind its way back around Canary Wharf, then back over Tower Bridge to end at the Cutty Sark. It’s organised by the same team behind the London Marathon.
The event in full…
– The Big Half, a mass participation race over the classic half marathon distance, starting at the iconic setting of Tower Bridge and finishing in Greenwich
– The Little Half for younger runners will be held on a 2.1 mile route from Southwark Park to the stunning Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich
– The Big Relay, exclusively for community groups from the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich, with distances ranging from one mile to five miles
– The Big Festival in Greenwich with a huge range of food music and entertainment, including performances from community groups and fun activities and fitness classes for the whole family to enjoy
Entry is open now if you fancy doing it yourself. There are 5,800 places in the main race (making it much smaller than either the main marathon or the unlamented Run to the Beat) with a limited number of discounted places for people from the host boroughs (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets).
Quotes from the press release:
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Big Half has the potential to become one of the most remarkable days in our sporting calendar. And putting local people at the heart of a world-class running event is a masterstroke. Sport has the power to change people’s lives, and we hope The Big Half will become an annual event that can help inspire tens of thousands of Londoners to get involved in sport and in their local communities.”
Hugh Brasher, Event Director, The Big Half, said: “If you were inspired by Sunday’s London Marathon, this is your chance to get involved in an event like no other. Sport can be an incredible way of joining people together and getting communities to interact together. We are creating an event that is unique, that is fun, that people will want to come back to year after year. The Big Half is a celebration of community and life.”
There’ll still be a bit of disruption (I imagine people in Wapping will feel sore) but nothing like the mass closures of full marathon day. And it looks like it’ll be a huge day for Greenwich town centre. So stick the date in your diary…
The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.
While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.
Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.
The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.
Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.
Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.
Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.
Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.
Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.
The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.
Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.
If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.
An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.
Reading about plans for redeveloping the area around Millwall’s New Den got me pondering about what might have been. The proposals for Surrey Canal – apparently in somewhere called “North Lewisham” – promise a “a regional and local centre for sporting excellence”, with 2,700 new homes and a “sports village” together with a revamp of the Lions’ tatty ground.
In part, it’s a second attempt to make a decent job of something that didn’t work in the 1990s. When Millwall moved from their infamous old Den in 1993, the then-New London Stadium was due to be a multi-purpose arena. But its isolated location stunted its growth, and it’s rarely staged much else beyond Millwall home games – which in themselves haven’t been much of a draw in recent years. But with the club promoted to the second division at the end of last season and it finally enjoying stable ownership, it can look to the future with a bit of confidence. Which is more than can be said for south-east London’s other club, sadly.
So with Millwall doing well, plans to invest in the local area and the possibility of a new rail station on the final phase of the east London line, things are looking up in the badlands. But it could have been all so, so different around here.
Around the back of the New Den is Surrey Canal Road. The clue’s in the name. There used to be a canal here. The Grand Surrey Canal ran from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe and passed through Deptford and the rear of New Cross before winding its way towards Peckham, Walworth and Camberwell. It seems amazing now to think that the last ships passed along the Surrey Canal as recently as 1970, but plenty remains. At the northern end, the biggest clues are the swooping bridge taking Oxestalls Road into Deptford’s Pepys Estate, which was built around the canal during the 1960s. The canal’s route is obvious, and you can see how the Pepys would have been seen as somewhere decent to live on a 60s planner’s drawing board.
The “Victoria Wharf” bridge at the Evelyn Street/ Blackhorse Road junction is another remnant – the black and white photo at the top of this page is of an old gasworks which used to be there. Surrey Canal Road itself was built by Lewisham Council on the canal bed in the 1980s, and you can still see mooring rings along the footpath – the old towpath.
Another old canal bridge was a major feature on the Old Kent Road (right) until the early 1990s – the junction with Peckham Park Road, by the North Peckham Civic Centre, is still called Canal Bridge. Canal-side cottages remain in a private close just off the Old Kent Road – now hidden from view (almost literally) by the big retail barns which appeared there after the canal bridge was destroyed.
Further south, into Peckham, bridges remain as decorative features. A branch ended just before where the award-winning Peckham Library is now. The edges of the canal are still there, and, amazingly, a canal-era timber wharf remains behind the library, complete with loading bays and wood stacked up outside.
I walked along this stretch last week, and it’s difficult to think of Peckham as a waterside town. But with the work that’s gone into rengerating this corner of Peckham (and the North Peckham estate, with a tragic history of its own) it’s tempting to wonder what might have been. There’s a shop unit opposite the library square which looks like it could just be a boatyard…
The canal’s fortunes declined after the Second World War, and parts of it were drained during the 1960s because of concerns about children falling into its by now little-used waters. The wharves around Evelyn Street were the last to see boats, but by the mid-1970s the canal had been filled in. A 1971 newspaper story reprinted by the excellent London Canals website portrays the difference between the dying Grand Surrey Canal and its north London counterpart, the Grand Union Canal – which had already become the leafy attraction which it still is today. Sadly, which newspaper the story comes from is not recorded.
[Southwark Council planning chair] Councillor Charles Halford argues that “it would have been expensive to provide access to the canal and clean the water. And with such a long stretch, there would have been obvious dangers for children.
The Port of London Authority is equally bland. “We have all along been interested in getting the best possible value for the sites,” said a spokesman. “We did point out to the council the difficulties involved in retaining the water.”
Just let them try that sort of statement on the residents of Maida Vale or Primrose Hill. Lay a finger on the Grand Union Canal, and letters signed by lords sprout from the columns of The Times.
Down south of the river, however, they apparently order matters differently.
So the canal died, and was gradually filled in with industrial land. Following the Surrey Canal isn’t a particularly pleasant stroll. Some of London’s hidden industries are housed in this stretch – sweltering hot industrial dry-cleaning plants and recycling yards dominate the line of the canal from Ilderton Road, for instance. But once you join the dots of what was there – Greenwich line rail commuters can see the line of the canal in the strip of yards immediately before the train passes Deptford Park – a picture of an alternative south east London emerges, promoting the question – what would have happened if the canal stayed?
It’s almost certain that what we now call “Docklands” would stretch deeper into south London – it may well have been that the London Docklands Development Corporation‘s remit could have stretched down to the Old Kent Road and beyond. The LDDC took on planning powers from the boroughs and forced through developments which have changed the face of the riverside.
Maybe Peckham would have been reoriented around the canal, while the stretch from the Old Kent Road handed to small businesses, perhaps more office-based industries than the “dirty” work which takes place down there now. It’s worth remembering the first Isle of Dogs developments were small units near Crossharbour station, or businesses using old warehouses at cheap rates – Spitting Image was made on Canary Wharf before the piledrivers arrived, for example.
With those workers would have come housing and transport demands – maybe the pressures seen in BBC1’s documentary The Tower, when part of the Pepys estate was sold to the private sector to fund its redevelopment, may have come around 20 years earlier. Perhaps it would have kick-started the revamp of the old East London Tube line a couple of decades earlier. Senegal Fields would probably still be housing a small park instead of Millwall’s ground. An incinerator wouldn’t have been so welcome there, either.
All this is wild speculation, of course. The area could have been left rotting around an increasingly smelly canal which only ever saw industrial traffic anyway. But even without the great push of being the Docklands, the Grand Union Canal around Brentford is now thriving, and the Regent’s Canal through Hoxton, Islington and King’s Cross is home to homes, businesses, bars and cafes.
The scene above is the rail bridge into Haggerston station from the Kingsland Road, but who knows, it could just as easily been Deptford or New Cross if things had turned out differently.
If you want to find more about how it was, the brilliant London Canals site has more, including details of the short-lived Croydon Canal, which explains why some of Brockley’s streets are a little oddly-laid out.
(Thanks to Mary Mills for supplying the archive photos of the Grand Surrey Canal.)