Monday 11 May 2015

A small personal comment on tugs, the River, famous paintings and stuff

Until the developers and their tower blocks finally close in - I can still see a tiny snitch of the River, off Enderbys, from my bedroom window.  A couple of days ago I was watching a group of tugs bringing Ocean round before taking her further up river.  This morning, very early, I saw her depart.

By chance, just now, I was looking at 'A Hundred Years of Towage' - a history of Watkins Tugs.  This was written in the 1930s when the River was the River and Watkins would never have dreamt it could ever be possible that it would ever be deserted and the fuss we make now about just one boat coming up to Greenwich. 

Anyway - he does say something about Greenwich which might be interesting "On the Kentish side of the River are the Greenwich buoys used by the big ships which have to turn round below Greenwich Pier in order to take up their position satisfactorily and are moored fore and aft with their head downstream. A strong tide setting straight to their position adds to the usual difficulties of putting ships on to buoys and it is a particularly ticklish job to get the inside ship out without disturbing the outside one.  These buoys are mostly used by tankers and sugar ships but latterly with Polish and German cruising liners, acting as floating hotels while their passengers have the chance of seeing London and when they are so occupied Watkins tugs with passenger licences have been employed as tenders to them, taking their passengers ashore and bringing them off again."

So there you -nothing new at all in cruise liners, or turning big boats. And, note, the boats then were stacked alongside their berths - one, two or three.  

So, why was I looking at the history of Watkins?? Well, on Saturday I went to a conference on London shipbuilding and heard Professor Andrew Lambert speak on JM W Turner, Charles Napier, and the 'Aaron Manby'; the Iron Steam Boat and the Making of the British Century. This was a really, really great lecture - but, like everyone else, Andrew showed a slide of the 'Fighting Temeraire' - and he talked a bit about the ideas behind the painting.  Now I knew that Watkins had something to say about this - and - back to the History of Towage - and Monarch - she was Watkin's first steam tug and they were very, very proud of her

"In the 1830s the Navy had very much more interest in the Thames than it has today ..... and the Monarch was constantly being chartered by the Navy for odd jobs.  She was towing Nelson's famous line-of-battleship Termeraire up the river to be broken up at Rotherhithe when Turner, the painter, who was one of a picnic party on the riverbank, saw her and made a sketch which developed into his famous painting ..... In kindness one must understand that the famous line-of-battleship was of far more interest to him than the tug which was ahead of her and while he took considerable pains over her technical detail, embellishing it a little it is true, he could not spare much time on the Monarch and his picture must not be taken as an accurate portrait of her."

Only tugmen understand about tugs - as Watkins makes quite clear - and I am not going to go on quoting from the book - particularly the views on the Navy and its officers.

Well, I might, by request


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