Greenhithe

Scottish maritime interests particularly may mourn the loss of Geo Gibson.

In February I made what I can best describe as a pilgrimage to the site of another entrant into the British maritime history hall of fame, to the Thamesside community of Greenhithe on the Kent shore a few miles below the Dartford Bridge and the Purfleet terminals and in view of the Tilbury container cranes downstream.

Here, at Greenhithe, was for many years, the yard of Everards, once the largest coastal-short sea operators in Britain whose funnel colours and house flag were known throughout Europe. Passing Greenhithe, perhaps when as a kid, I was on a trip to Southend. I recall witnessing a collection of the Everard fleet on slips at Greenhithe under repair, both motor coasters and the sailing barges they were once famous for. The wonderful preserved </p><p> was one of theirs.

Interestingly, though they long cherished their sailing barges and, indeed, worked them longer than most, they were early converts to diesel engines. So some of their barge skippers moved to motor vessels from sail without calling at steamers in between.

I have not seen a convincing explanation of their naming system and the Everard family – I believe were not above inventing names not known to suit them with some black humour. The names Austerity and Scarcity appeared in difficult post war days. The naming system ending in ‘…ity’ appeared on most of their vessels. But when they purchased a ‘one off’ vessel off the stocks of the respected but struggling Williamsons Yard at Workington, I could never work out the reason for the name ‘Sodality’ or origin of it. So when they gave this, no doubt, low cost purchase, this name may be explained by the Everard family sense of humour – if they paid little for the hull on the stocks as no engine was included, the expression ‘sod-all’ starts to resonate, giving rise to the name ’sod-all-ity’. I Like to think it is.

My visit to Greenhithe in March 2019 was something of a disappointment. I found nothing to recall the once famous shipping enterprise that fl ourished there. Recent river flood wall construction now almost bars access to the river, though there is an official riverside walk beside what has become a small gentrifi ed enclave of desirable riverside residential property, like so much of Thameside. And I did note a ‘Sara’ road which was the name of one of the champion racing barges from the post war period, and there was an Arethusa road which may be a reminder of the training ship of that name once moored nearby.

Lying on the mud below the river wall, washed through at low tide, here were two hulks of some antiquity. A wooden one lying more upstream appeared, if anything, to have been a substantial motor yacht fishing or work boat, the other was a hefty made of concrete merchant vessel hull about 100’ in length with two hatches, and when the river wall was under construction instead of removing the wreck they merely removed the concrete bow that was obstructing the river works leaving over three quarters of the hulk where it lay at right angles to the river and the wall.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - April 2019 Issue
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