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Housing in Thamesmead
Thamesmead shown within Greater London
|OS grid reference|
|– Charing Cross||9.4 mi (15.1 km) W|
|Ceremonial county||Greater London|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||SE2, SE28|
|UK Parliament||Erith and Thamesmead|
|London Assembly||Greenwich and Lewisham|
|Bexley and Bromley|
Thamesmead is a district of South East London, England, located in the London Boroughs of Greenwich and Bexley. It is situated 9.4 miles (15.1 km) east of Charing Cross, and includes a group of disparate developments, mainly social housing, built from the mid-1960s onwards, mostly on former marshland on the south bank of the River Thames, between the established towns of Woolwich and Belvedere. Originally planned to have 60,000-100,000 residents, it is now estimated to be on target for a final population of around 50,000.
Most of the land area of Thamesmead previously formed about 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) of the old Royal Arsenal site that extended over Plumstead Marshes and Erith Marshes. There is some evidence of prehistoric human occupation of the area: flints, animal bones and charcoal were found in bore holes around Western and Central Way in 1997 by the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MOLAS). In Roman times, the river level was significantly lower, and work by MOLAS in 1997 around Summerton Way revealed evidence of field ditches and pottery and quernstones from Germany dating from around the 3rd or 4th century. After the Roman era, river levels rose again and the area reverted to marshland. According to Hasted, some areas of this marshland were drained by 1279 by the monks of Lesnes Abbey.
Between 1812 and 1816, a canal was built by convicts to take materials such as timber from the River Thames to Woolwich Royal Arsenal. Much of this canal has been filled in, but part remains in Thamesmead West and is now called the Broadwater. A disused lock gate and swing bridge over the canal still exist beside the River Thames.
Much of Thamesmead was initially built by the Greater London Council (GLC) for rent to families moving from overcrowded back-to-back Victorian housing (also referred to as slums) in south eastern parts of Inner London. The area had been inundated in the North Sea Flood of 1953, so the original design placed living accommodation at first floor level or above, used overhead walkways and left the ground level of buildings as garage space. The first residence was occupied in 1968, but already there were rain penetration problems. The pre-1974 parts of Thamesmead are a mix of modernist town houses, medium-rise and 12-storey blocks system-built in concrete, which have featured in various films due to their 'rough urban look'; the design of the newer buildings is more traditional and in brick.
When the GLC was abolished in 1986, its housing assets and the remaining undeveloped land were vested in a non-profit organisation, Thamesmead Town Limited (TTL). TTL was a private company with an unusual form of governance[clarification needed]. Its nine executive directors were local residents; they periodically submitted themselves to re-election.
In 2000, TTL was wound down and two new organisations were formed. In broad terms, Gallions Housing Association took over the ownership and management of the housing assets whilst Tilfen, later Tilfen Land, took over the remaining undeveloped land. Tilfen is jointly owned by Gallions and Trust Thamesmead.
District heating and cable radio broadcasting were pioneered in Thamesmead. The District heating system was decommissioned around the year 2000; properties connected to it had wet radiator systems installed by the landlord.
Thamesmead was built at the end of the 1960s. Efforts were made to solve the social problems that had already started to affect earlier estates. These were believed to be the result of people being uprooted from close-knit working-class communities and sent to estates many miles away, where they knew nobody. The design of the estates meant that people would see their neighbours more rarely than they would have done in the terraced housing that had been typical in working-class areas. The solution proposed was that once the initial residents had moved in, their families would be given priority for new housing when it became available.
Another radical idea of the GLC division architect Robert Rigg was taken from housing complexes in Sweden, where it was believed that lakes and canals reduced vandalism and other crime, mainly among the young. He used water as a calming influence on the residents.
Problems of the original design
The most significant design failure was the almost complete lack of shopping facilities and banks: only a few "corner shops" were initially built at Tavy Bridge. From the start Thamesmead was cut off from Abbey Wood, the nearest town with shopping facilities, by a railway line; however a four lane road bridge was built over the railway in the early 1970s. The area was then cut in two by the A2016, a new four lane dual carriageway by-pass of the Woolwich to Erith section of the A206 (although this road only got as far as the industrial part of lower Belvedere: the extension to Erith was opened in 1999). Still, residential building continued, this time on the other side of the A2016, which cut this part of Thamesmead off from rail travel to central London.
Over time more facilities developed, with a Morrisons supermarket and retail park near Gallions Reach. Bus services were improved and residents can now easily reach Abbey Wood railway station.
Despite early proposals for the Jubilee Line Extension to go to Thamesmead, via the Isle of Dogs and the Royal Docks, Thamesmead was not included and after reaching the Greenwich Peninsula, the line heads north to Stratford, London (via Canning Town and West Ham), despite Stratford also being on the major Central line tube link into London. The main reason cited for this decision was that many workers in Canary Wharf lived in Essex and could change from National Rail to the Jubilee line at Stratford, London and West Ham.
Thamesmead is also cut off from the north of the River Thames and is in the centre of the 15 mile gap between the Blackwall Tunnel and the Dartford Tunnel/QE2 Bridge. Various proposals have been made for a new river crossing, the closest of which was in the late 1980s, when there was a controversial proposal to alter the shape of London's South Circular inner orbital road to run through Oxleas Woods. Houses in Plumstead were compulsorily purchased but the plans fell through. Since then, Thamesmead has grown significantly, limiting the number of potential sites for a new river crossing.
Thamesmead's location between the Thames and the South London escarpment limits rail transport and road access points. Thus Thamesmead has no underground or surface rail links. Most residents rely on bus services to reach the nearest rail stations. There is a disused railway trackbed from Plumstead which once served the Royal Arsenal. Buses serving Thamesmead include services 177, 180, 229, 244, 380, 401, 469, 472, 601, 602, 669, 672, B11 and the night bus N1.
Nearest railway stations
- Abbey Wood railway station
- Plumstead railway station
- Belvedere railway station
- Woolwich Arsenal railway station
- Woolwich Dockyard railway station
Thamesmead was designed around futuristic ideas, and indeed, looked impressive at first from a distance. It was provided walkways between its blocks of housing and later between sections in North Thamesmead. The walkways quickly became littered and abused. They were not considered safe places to walk. Pathways set out for people to walk on were put in without regard to how people would wish to get about, so some were ignored in favour of more direct routes over grassed areas.
It has four distinct areas:
- Thamesmead South is in Bexley and is the location of the original development built in the late 1960s to early 1970s. The buildings are almost entirely of concrete, in a Cubist/Brutalist/Modernist style, and include a number of high-rise blocks. It is east of Harrow Manor Way (A2041) and south of the A2016.
- Thamesmead Central is in Greenwich and was first developed in the early 1980s in the ring between the A2016 and A2041. It originally consisted of large, sprawling, concrete and red brick, eight- and nine-storey estates overlooking the A2041, and three-storey red-brick town houses. It has spread west of the A2041 and now also includes a number of red and yellow brick homes built from the 1990s onwards.
- Thamesmead North is split between Bexley & Greenwich and is north of the A2016 and east of the A2041. Built from the 1970s onwards, it was initially made up of town houses in grey brick; more recent builds are in red & yellow brick.
- Thamesmead West is in Greenwich near Woolwich and Plumstead (Between Whinchat Road, the A2016 & the banks of the river Thames) and was built from the 1990s onwards. It is a significant distance from the original development and consists mainly of medium density residential development with yellow brick fascias, with towers along the riverside.
Housing is still under construction both by Gallions Housing Association (for rent and part rent/part buy) and by private developers (for outright sale). Another new development is under construction in 2010. The final phase of the Gallions Reach Urban Village (ecopark) is the creation of Gallions Reach Park (a 14.3 acre, public open space land, between Gallions Hill and the River Thames).
Water remains an important feature of the several parks and open spaces.
The Tavy Bridge area is now being redeveloped by Gallions in partnership with Wates Group; the plans include homes with dwelling space at ground floor level, making them susceptible to any future flooding.
Thamesmead now features a retail park finished in brick anchored around a Morrisons Supermarket; there is also a shopping parade which has mainly serviced based outlets such as hairdressers and estate agents. It contains a clock tower and lake, which may seem contrived. Some of the original overhead pedestrian walkways have been demolished for reasons of public safety and some ground floor garages have been unfilled, as incidents of crime deterred their use as parking space.
Trust Thamesmead is a registered charity set up to provide community services across Thamesmead. It runs six community centres and runs a variety of projects promoting social development and work and training projects.
Thamesmead West contains Gallions Ecopark a pioneering small social/affordable housing development with homes built to high energy efficiency and environmental standards. The estate also includes a small lake and Gallions Hill (viewpoint hill).
Part of Thamesmead West is also sometimes referred to as "Gallions Reach Urban Village". This can lead to confusion, as it is on the opposite bank of the River Thames from Gallions Reach DLR station and Gallions Reach shopping park. There is no Docklands Light Railway, London Underground or rail station in Thamesmead West.
Belmarsh Prison, Isis Prison and Thameside Prison are located on western edge of the area, while the sewage processing works at Crossness, built in the Victorian era is on eastern edge of Thamesmead. The southern boundary is the covered Southern Outfall Sewer, which has been landscaped as an elevated footpath called the Ridgeway.
In November 2007, Bexley Council marked Thamesmead's 40th birthday with a motion proposed by local Councillor David Leaf and seconded by Councillor John Davey.
In common with the rest of London, the ethnic make-up of Thamesmead has changed since it was first built. Initially, it was one of the most homogenous estates of its type in London, being predominately white and working class. The lack of London Underground services and at the very edge of the metropolis may have meant Thamesmead was not first port of call for immigrants arriving in London. The housing selection policy that favoured relatives of existing residents reinforced this aspect.
However, after the Fall of Saigon and the American withdrawal from Vietnam in the late 1970s, a small group of Vietnamese refugees built a community in the area. In the 1990s, another ultimately larger wave of emigration from West Africa (predominately Nigeria and Ghana) began, growing to a point where national newspapers talked of advertisements on Nigerian Television describing Thamesmead as a key UK destination. The 2011 census revealed that 35.58% of residents in the Thamesmead Moorings ward described themselves as Black African, the highest percentage in both London and the UK, Thamesmead East had the second highest at 34.88%.
Thamesmead Moorings; Ethnicity Breakdown:
- White British 33.3%
- White Irish 0.7%
- White Gypsy or Irish Traveller 0.3%
- White Other: 8.1%
Black or Black British 42.9%
- Black African 35.6%
- Black Caribbean 3.8%
- Black Other 3.5%
Mixed Race 5.3%
- White and Black Caribbean 1.7%
- White and Black African 1.8%
- White and Asian 0.6%
- Mixed Other 1.2%
Asian or Asian British 7.8%
- Indian 1.5%
- Bangladeshi 0.7%
- Pakistani 0.7%
- Chinese 2.2%
- Other Asian 2.7%
Other Ethnic Groups 1.7%
- Arab 0.3%
- Other 1.4%
The whole of Thamesmead estate was featured prominently in the film The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973) starring Peter Sellers. Thamesmead is seen as a new and better alternative through the eyes of two small children who live in older dilapidated flats on the other side of the river. The Tavy Bridge area of Thamesmead South, including Southmere Lake, was used as a setting for the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange and also the Channel 4 film Beautiful Thing. British TV Drama Misfits is also filmed in Thamesmead. Many scenes take place around Southmere Lake, while Bexley College was once also used as a setting. The video of Come to Daddy by electronic musician Aphex Twin, directed by Chris Cunningham, was also shot in Thamesmead. The Firm (1989) starring Gary Oldman was filmed in Thamesmead.
There are a wide variety of active community groups and local bands (The Bargains and a member of post-rock act From The Sky (band)) and a short-range commercial radio station - 106.8 Time FM - that grew from the original cable (subsequently FM) service "Radio Thamesmead".
Places of worship in the area include the Thamesmead Ecumenical Parish, with shared buildings and co-operation by the Methodist Church, Church of England, United Reformed Church and Roman Catholic Church.
Sport & Leisure
The local football team is Thamesmead Town F.C. who play at the soon to be redeveloped Bayliss Avenue ground. Thamesmead were champions of the Kent League in 2007/08, and were then promoted to the Isthmian League Division One North. Thamesmead Town have a small but dedicated following that are known as The Thamesmead Hardcore.
The Thamesmead Riverside Walk runs alongside the Thames through Thamesmead West, Thamesmead Central and Thamesmead North and is part of both the Thames Path Southeast Extension and National Cycle Route 1. Thamesmead is also one of the starting points of the Green Chain Walk, which links to places such as Chislehurst and Crystal Palace.
There is a combined swimming pool, fitness centre and library run by Greenwich Council and Greenwich Leisure Limited in Thamesmead Central (The Thamesmere Centre). Bexley Council run a library at Binsey Walk near Southmere Lake, and sailing and canoeing are run at Southmere Lake in Thamesmead South by Southmere Boating Centre (with Greenwich Yacht Club) and sailing only by the YMCA in association with Erith Yacht Club. Trust Thamesmead run an indoor climbing wall (The cave) near Southmere Lake. The Thamesview Golf Centre in Thamesmead North has a nine hole course and driving range, and the Crossway Gymnastics Centre is located in Byron Close. Fishing at Birchmere Lake in Thamesmead West is organised by Thamesmead Town Angling Club. Fish include tench, bream, carp and pike.
- Museum of London Archaeological Service site summaries 1997, accessed 27 May 2008
- Museum of London Archaeological Service site summaries 1997, accessed 27 May 2008
- Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, notes from Bob Carr October 1992, accessed 27 May 2008
- Thamesmead, A Potted History, by Marc Anderson, on Greenwich 2000 website, originally from Thamesmead Gazette July 1995, accessed 27 May 2008
- Thamesmead History on Trust Thamesmead website accessed 27 May 2008
- Appendix 1, section 7 of the Tripcock Point planning report 9Sep2005 (Planning document PDU/0514/03, relating to London Borough of Greenwich Planning Application 03/2618/O) Online rtf version available here, accessed 27 May 2008
- 'About Us' on Trust Thamesmead website, accessed 27 May 2008
- Gallions Ecopark in Thamesmead
- Financial Times Article - October 2008 - "Requiem for a dream home"
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8193884.stm BBC News - "The Fraud Capital of the UK", accessed 11 August 2009
- Dolan, Josephine; Spicer, Andrew (2008). "Journal of British Cinema and Television". Journal of British Cinema and Television 5: 133. doi:10.3366/E1743452108000113. Retrieved 2009-10-26.
- Thames Path Southeast Extension on TfL website, accessed 27 May 2008
- Green Chain Walk website, accessed 27 May 2008
- Leisure & Sport page on Trust Thamesmead website, accessed 27 May 2008
- Birchmere Lake details on 'Go Fish' website, accessed 27 May 2008
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