Yes – there is still a bridge taking Trafalgar Avenue over the route of the former Grand Surrey Canal! It was news to this author that the slight rise in the road where it crosses the park disguises a modern concrete replacement bridge, not merely a pile of demolished buildings.
It’s not quite clear (maybe someone can explain) why an expensive bridge was built, although the canal had been filled in in 1970.
Unfortunately, bridges need inspecting periodically, and when that time came around last year, it proved to be a bigger task than at first envisaged.
Typically for the development of the park, it was discovered that the void beneath the bridge had been used to dispose of all kinds of waste, including asbestos.
Works have therefore taken quite some time, and the whole space beneath has been excavated in order to build permanent inspection chambers, so that in future, the job will be a bit easier.
The brick tower next to the bridge above is a ventilation chamber for the 132kV London electricity ring-main, cables for which were laid under the park as it was being developed in the 60s or 70s.
Of course, an imaginative administration might have thought about the posibility of restoring some water to the area, in some sort of memorial to the days of the canal. However, a brick-built inspection chamber is going in and the whole are will be backfilled and restored to grass.
Did you spot the ubiquitous R Whites lemonade bottle in the image above? Somehow recovered intact, despite the heavy earth-movers, these can be found all over the park, wherever a hole is dug.
You may have seen our blog 2 years ago on this historic bit of Surrey Canal infrastructure. The only remaining section of canal bank, which marked the junction of the Camberwell branch (1810) with the Peckham branch (1830) of the Grand Surrey Canal, has probably stood in this position, if not this state, for 120-150 years.
However, although still absolutely solid, the surface is beginning to crumble and become unsightly, especially for the new flats opposite, and the council have been determined to replace it. Work started at the beginning of 2017 on a like-for-like replacement (rather than suburban bypass-style concrete block planters), as far as funds and practicality allow. The top end of Surrey Canal walk has been closed whilst this happens.
First up was the removal of a two metre-wide strip of the beautifully worn cobbles on the top surface, which now forms the ground level for the Glengall Wharf community garden.
The work has been majorly distruptive for the garden, involving the removal of a fine old self-seeded plum tree and many garden structures. However, it was arranged to take place in winter, outside the growing season, to at least minimise this.
These cobbles, known as granite setts, have been taken up with a JCB and as far as possible preserved for replacement when the wall work is complete. It was thought that they’d been set solidly in concrete, but they’ve mostly come away cleanly, minus a few breakages.
Around the end of January, work started on excavating beneath the garden surface and removing soil from behind the wall. Here things got interesting for the contractors, as they discovered the foundations of the rubbish chutes, visible in the photo beneath, and on our previous blog
Now, it’s a case of tearing down the old wall and carting it away.
One or two interesting finds were made:
It also became clear that a previous wall had existed further back than the concrete wall, judging by the foundations uncovered:
Work is due to finish in March 2017, so watch this space for updates. Please do go and see the works for yourself, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment here!
Southwark Council has decided that the original retaining wall of Glengall Wharf should be replaced with a concrete block barrier similar to those used on motorway embankments. Flowers and plants in the gaps will look ‘nice’, but effectively erase any idea of a canal bank.
The existing wall is certainly not pretty, but it’s a major piece of industrial archaeology from the days when the canal ran alongside and turned down towards Peckham. Apart from the small low concrete ledge in the grass oppposite, it’s the only piece of original canal bank left on the entire three and a half mile length of the Grand Surrey Canal. It features in numerous historic photos of the area.
In this image, you can see the black painted wall with timber fenders attached part way down. In the present-day image above and below, the black painting is still visible, with plain concrete below, where the fenders had been attached.
It’s also still possible to see large stone blocks embedded in the wall, if you take a walk today. These were the footings of the large loading chutes visible in the historic image. There are 12 visible on the Peckham route, corresponding to the 6 loading chutes which were on that side of Glengall Wharf.
It seems a great shame to bury almost the last signs of industrial canal heritage for the sake of a tidy-up.
The Museum of London, in its role a keeper of the Port of London Authority archive, recently completed a project to gather information on a cache of 150 or so photographs of the Grand Surrey Canal. It’s thought these were taken between 1915 and 1925, and were attached to a notebook. They can be seen on the MOL site here.
Local children took part in researching the industrial history that took place in and around the Grand Surrey Canal which once ran through what is now part of Burgess Park. Their ideas and endeavours will result in an art installation in the underpass in the park with the help of local artists’ group ‘Art in the Park’.
The traditional craft workshops run by Friends of Burgess Park as part of their history project Bridge to Nowhere were greeted with enthusiasm and a desire to learn craft skills – especially knitting. The word got about and well over 30 people took part on the last day, with 100 participants over the three days. Local people got the chance to try out traditional hand sewing, embroidery and knitting, and canal style art. Most of the people taking part were born long after the canal closed, but were interested to learn more about it. The local residents are definitely keen to develop their craft skills to show and sell their work in the future.