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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Inside the new Crossrail Canary Wharf Station

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One of the attractions of attending the preview for the new Tunnel: The archaeology of Crossrail exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands was that it offered a possibility for some people to have a look inside the new Canary Wharf Crossrail Station. The upper 3 floors of the station including retail, roof garden and restaurants have been open since 2015, however the lower sections are still being fitted out and access is limited to the occasional special event or open day.

The station is one of the most unusual in London because it has been created by sinking a 250 metre-long station box into waters of West India Quay dock. The station facilities are 18 metres below water level which has presented a number of challenges.  

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Arriving in the lower levels, the first surprise is the size of the station ticket hall which will be accessed via eight long-rise escalators from the promenade level entrances at either end of the building.

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The concourse is 185 metres long and is very similar in design to the main Canary Wharf station with large open spaces.

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The platforms are even longer at 241 metres long and will provide plenty of space to passengers.

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The platforms are still being worked upon, but a sneak preview of the track and tunnel gives some idea of the scale.

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One interesting fact is the station footprint which at 256m long is slightly longer than the height of One Canada Square which stands over the station.

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Trains running on the Elizabeth Line will start from the new Canary Wharf station in December 2018. Trains will terminate at Paddington in the west and Abbey Wood in the east.

When the route fully opens in December 2019, a train every five minutes at peak time will allow passengers to travel all the way through to Paddington, Heathrow or Reading in the west and Abbey Wood in the east.

It is important to realise that these types of engineering undertakings are once in a lifetime and Crossrail will be considered to one of the great engineering achievements of the early 21st century. I have written posts about the nearby Thames Tunnel and Blackwall Tunnel which were considered wonders of their time.

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Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail at the Museum of London Docklands from 10th February to 3rd September 2017

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Regular readers will know that I am often intrigued by tunnels and have written about the Thames and Blackwall tunnels. Therefore it was with a great deal of anticipation that I attended the preview for the latest exhibition at the  Museum of London Docklands. The exhibition is entitled Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail and explores the wide range of archaeological objects unearthed by Crossrail .

Many people may be aware of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, but few people will realise that since work began in 2009, the project has undertaken one of the most extensive archaeological programmes ever in the UK, with over 10,000 artefacts found covering almost every important period of the Capital’s history.

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The construction of London’s newest railway, which will be known as the Elizabeth Line has sliced through London from East to West and gone through many layers of London’s history.

Some of the finds include:

Prehistoric flints found in North Woolwich, showing evidence for Mesolithic tool making 8,000 years ago

Tudor bowling ball found at the site of the Tudor King John’s Court manor house in Stepney Green

Roman iron horse shoes found near Liverpool Street Station

Medieval animal bone skates found near Liverpool Street Station

Late 19th century ginger and jam jars from the site of the Crosse & Blackwell bottling factory near Tottenham Court Road station

Human remains including one of the skeletons found near Liverpool Street Station from the 17th century Bedlam cemetery, which a DNA has shown died from the Plague.

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Just before you enter the main part of the exhibition, there is a statue of St Barbara who is associated with explosives and lightning. She is the patron saint of miners and tunnellers and despite all the high tech equipment, the people on the Crossrail construction took the statue down one of the shafts for good luck.

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The exhibition follows the trail of the Elizabeth Line and features highlights from each section. Of particular interest in our local area were the digs at Pudding Mill Lane that looked at some of the old industries on the River Lea, The old Thames Ironworks site near Canning Town was explored and a number of finds like iron chains and brickworks was found.

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Digging under Canary Wharf, part of a woolly mammoth’s jaw bone was found and a fragment of amber that was estimated to be 55 million years old. Both items are currently being analysed at the Natural History Museum.

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Some objects at Stepney Green are from the Tudor period when it was the location of many large mansions for the wealthy.

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The exhibition illustrates some of the problems of archaeology with the mystery of the Walbrook skulls which are from different periods but were all found together.

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As well as the archaeological finds, large screens show how the massive engineering project of Crossrail burrowed its way beneath the London city streets and beyond.

This fascinating exhibition is without doubt one of the biggest and most comprehensive exhibitions held at the Museum of Docklands and is well worth a visit. The exhibition is free and runs until September 2017.

The SS Robin Returns Home

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Around three years ago, I posted the remarkable story of the SS Robin which has been located in the Royal Docks. I am delighted to report that plans have been announced to move the ship to Trinity Buoy Wharf, close to where she was built in 1890. Urban Space Management, leaseholders of Trinity Buoy Wharf, have agreed to maintain the SS Robin and to make her story more accessible to the public alongside other important ships.  

It is planned that the collection of the SS Robin, and the tugs Knocker White and Varlet and lighter Diana will form the basis of an open air museum to help bring to life the rich heritage of the area from East India Dock Basin to Trinity Buoy Wharf.  For the past few years the tugs Knocker White and Varlet have been berthed near the Museum of Docklands in West India Quay.

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The SS Robin is the world’s oldest complete steam coaster and the last of her type in the world. The Dirty British Coaster was immortalised in John Masefield’s poem ” Cargoes .”

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amythysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

 

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

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The British coastal cargo steamships were the workhorses of the Merchant fleet in the late 19th, early 20th Century around the ports of Britain and Northern Europe. However by the 1960s they had virtually disappeared.

SS Robin is a traditional raised quarterdeck coastal cargo steamer built in Orchard House Yard near the famous Thames Ironworks on the eastern tip of Isle of Dogs and launched in 1890.

She was built to high standards regarding materials and workmanship with her hull fitted out in East India Dock. From there she was taken to Dundee to have her boiler and engines fitted. After trials she was taken to Liverpool to begin her career as a coastal steamer in 1890.

For the next ten years she plied her trade around the ports of Britain and occasionally some of the continental ports carrying the heavy cargoes such as coal, steel and china clay for which the steamers became famous for.

However in 1900, she was sold to a Spanish owner who renamed her Maria and spent the next 70 odd years going up and down the North Atlantic coast, she survived Two World Wars, once getting an escort from the French Navy to protect her from U Boat attacks.

But then at the end of a hard working life and due to be scrapped, there was another twist of fate she was recognised by the Maritime Trust as a one of a kind and in 1974 was purchased and travelled back to Britain under her own steam.

From 1974 she was given her original name back and moored in St Katherine’s Dock and her restoration began. In 1991 she moved to West India Quay where between 2003-2007 she was used as an Education Centre and Gallery.

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However more structural restoration was needed, so in 2008 she went back to the coast this time to Lowestoft to prepare for her latest reincarnation in the Royal Docks where she returned in 2011.

 She may still be a Dirty British Coaster of John Masefield’s poem but now she is in elite company. She’s part of the National Historic Fleet and one of only three ‘Core Collection’ (Grade 1) vessels in the capital. The other two ships are the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast.

Although the SS Robin is considered too fragile to be able to float again, she and the other boats will be a wonderful reminder to visitors to the Trinity Buoy Wharf area of the long and glorious history of shipbuilding in the area.