This was one of my favourite places that I passed through on the walks for This Other London
The name ‘Erith’ apparently means ‘ancient haven’. Excavations have found extensive flint working in the area dating from the Mesolithic period and grave goods buried by Bronze Age Beaker People. The mud flats along the riverbank at low tide have the look of a primordial landscape. Long, wooden slipways reach out over the alluvial sludge into the river. At low tide the dark fossilized trunks of a 5000 year-old Neolithic Forest poke up through the muddy bank. For over two thousand years a dense woodland of ash, oak, alder and elm grew along the Thames foreshore till the waters gradually eroded it away. Morrisons supermarket and car park occupy the site of a Victorian pleasure gardens and hotel when daily steamers stopping at the grand pier gave the town an all-too-brief status as a chic tourist magnet. The pier may only be a 1950s replacement but it provides a sojourn from the busy city.
I spoke to the Dutch crew sat having a beer on the deck of one of these boats. They told me they were collecting sand excavated from the building of the new ‘super- sewer’ at Beckton and ferrying it downriver. They were fed up with the ever-changing schedule, days then nights, then back on days. They were keen to return to Holland but found themselves marooned at Erith Pier awaiting instructions.
Sometimes at night I wonder where they are now and look them up on a website that plots the live position of ships on a map.
At the time of writing they’re docked at the North Sea port of Farsund in Norway. I wonder whether they ever think back to that summer they spent marooned at Erith Pier and wistfully reminisce.
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