Battersea

Nico Rouquette

St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s Church has remained on the same site since 800 AD. However, the area around the church has changed drastically. Even until as late as the 1990s, the area still held remnants of its industrial past, with the Hovis factory still in operation until 1992. It is believed that the first residential boats arrived at the church long before the Hovis factory closed, possibly in the 1970s.

In 1985/6, when picture researcher and photographer Merilyn Thorold came afloat, the moorings already had a well-established community with a number of boats moored by the church [1]. Merilyn moved afloat after her children had left home. She had always loved the river, but never actually lived on it. She had previously lived next to the Thames in a house in Shepperton, and had been a keen sailor as a child. It was therefore no big shock to her children when she decided to move afloat, although it was still considered a rather odd and different thing to do at the time.

Her children described the community of people living afloat at St Mary’s Church at that time as ‘interesting, quirky characters’. They recall that it was a quite a close community where neighbours would watch out for each other and muck in on maintenance jobs.

However, the community enjoyed little stability on the moorings, with leases granted by the church only on a yearly basis. There has been tension over time between the church, which owns the riverside land, and the residents. The residents also pay an annual River Works Licence fee to the Port of London Authority (PLA). 

Merilyn bought the boat Wiljan and the lease for the moorings when she moved afloat in 1985/6. The boat was already linked up to the mains electricity, although water was stored in a tank in the bowels of the boat, which had to be re-filled regularly, and the toilet flushed straight into the river.

Systems had been upgraded by the time Nico R. moved afloat in 2001 [2]. He has lived on the river at Swan Wharf, just upstream from St Mary’s Church since 2001. He initially moved afloat after spotting a boat in the pages of Loot, a trading magazine. Having a pet guinea pig had hampered many of his searches for flats (which often had no-pet policies), but a boat offered his own space to do as he pleased. 

Nico’s boat Mo has been on its mooring since the late 1970s when the then owner Major General Mills obtained permission from the PLA to moor at its current position. However, it is likely that people may have been living on the site for longer. An ordnance survey map from 1896 shows that a pier ran out from the shore on the exact site where Mo currently sits. We do not know what this pier, called Battersea Square Pier, was used for, but it most likely played a part in the area’s industrial past.

The area immediately around the moorings has changed dramatically even over the past twenty years. It was largely derelict land until relatively recently and the church occupied all the land up to the river so that access to the moorings was via the churchyard. The introduction of the Thames path cut a walkway between the river and the Church, allowing for more direct access to the boats. There also used to be a pub on the corner, which is now taken over by flats, as is most of the surrounding area.

Although Nico’s boat sits just along from the boats by the Church on a site called ‘Swan Wharf ’, he knows the other residents well and sees them as neighbours. He has observed that when residents feel insecure on the river they stop investing in their boats, which leads them into disrepair. Montreal, one of the few remaining Thames Barges fell into a derelict state as a result of lack of maintenance as a result of the ongoing dispute with the church and was eventually taken out to the estuary and sold for parts in 2012. Nico has observed a long-run battle between the St Mary’s residents and the Church but cannot imagine a solution being found anytime soon.

The boats at Battersea are still chained to one another or to the river wall. This is unlike most of the other moorings along the tidal Thames where boats are arranged around pontoons. Around six years ago piles were installed with the aim of constructing a pontoon from which to moor the boats, but nothing has ever been done with them. This is another sign that people were reluctant to invest in the site because of the uncertainty of their future there.

Notes:

[1] Interview with Emelia and Daniel Thorold, London, 7 June 2016
[2] Interview with Nico R., London, 6 June 2016

Albion Quay, Oyster Pier & Plantation Wharf

A series of residential communities populate the riverfront in Battersea. Despite varying in age and size, all have taken advantage of Battersea’s industrial history by adapting disused industrial sites for residential moorings.

From the seventeenth century, Battersea has been a large manufacturing district, attracting a variety of trades and industries. Candles, cement, chemicals, crucibles, flour, oil, paint, soap, starch, sugar, turpentine and vinegar were all prominent. The area also harboured industries typically found more widely on the south bank, such as building, engineering and brewing. The river offered the only means of transporting heavy goods and so was crucial for manufacturing and industry. Greatest industrial growth in the second half of the nineteenth century meant that by 1900 it had all but engulfed the parish church and old village centre by the river [1].

Industry at Battersea continued to flourish up until the 1960s, however some factories, like the Hovis Flourmills remained working until 1992. Heavy bomb damage after the Second World War and the advent of containerisation and closure of the inner city docks in the 1960s, led to the decline in riverside industry at Battersea. The 1970s and 1980s saw a steady closure of manufactures: Morgan Crucible Company’s works (1970); Albert Bridge flourmills (1970s); Nine Elms Brewery (1975); Garton’s glucose factory (1982); Price’s Candles (1980s); Rank Hovis’s Battersea Flourmills (1992) [2].

The decline in industry and meant an abundance of mooring options. Houseboats began to populate disused sites at Battersea from the late 1970s, first at St Mary’s Church and then at Albion Quay in the 1980s. Oyster Pier and Plantation Wharf are much more recent; 2013 and 2015 respectively. These modern developments are an example of how residential boats are now being included in luxury housing ventures: an altogether different idea from their origins as cheap housing options. Albion Quay is situated at Battersea Reach, opposite Chelsea Harbour and just north of Battersea Railway Bridge. Boat and barge building were particularly associated with this area from the 1870s.

Albion Wharf, the site on which Albion Quay currently sits, operated as a boatyard and was described in 1915 as “typically old-fashioned and rudimentary: a lofty old brick workshop, a lean-to at the side, an earthen floor, and a slipway into the river from which to float barges.” [3]

However, by 1916 many of the boat yards were gone, having been taken over for industrial development. Albion Wharf was taken over by Battersea Borough Council as a refuse wharf. The riverside at Battersea continued to be dominated by industry and trade up until the closure of the inner city docks in 1981.

By the time the first residential boats arrived at Albion Quay in the late 1980s, the area was largely a ‘derelict industrial site’ [4]. The residents were essentially squatters, having no legal rights or permissions to live on the river. Nevertheless, by 1989 Albion Quay was transformed to its present appearance as a pontoon mooring with space for ten barges. This coincided with the development of the surrounding area to make way for luxury apartments and office blocks, which were beginning to line the riverfront. 

Nick Symes, who moved afloat in 1993 in his mid-late twenties, did so due to a desire to live on a boat [5]. He recalls that most other people lived afloat for same reasons. He describes that at that stage it was not necessarily a cheap option. As you couldn’t get a mortgage for a boat, they had to be bought outright and the process of converting and maintaining boats was not cheap.

Nick described the mooring as ‘a lot more ramshackle’ when he first arrived, although there continues to be ten boats at the mooring, as there were in 1993. However, the ownership of the mooring has changed. In 2008 the owner of the mooring was retiring and needed to sell Albion Quay. Ten residents joined together and bought the moorings as cooperative. Each member holds a share of a River Works Licence granted by the Port of London Authority. This has made some impact on the nature of the community at the mooring. Although common ownership has brought security, it has to some extent compromised the relationship between residents as their stakes in the mooring have increased enormously. Nevertheless, security is never absolute. Despite owning the mooring, the residents at Albion Quay are still beholden to the PLA, who have the power to grant and retract river licences.

Nick Symes noted various changes on the river since he moved afloat in 1993. Twenty years ago it was very much a derelict industrial site, whereas now the whole area is taken over by luxury flats and offices. The uses of the riverside have reflected the uses of the river itself. Nick remembers that twenty years ago there was more commercial traffic, and less leisure traffic than now. Changes to prices of homes on land have mirrored the increased expense of living on the river. He noted that it is more expensive to live afloat on the Thames now than it has ever been, and prices are continuing to be pushed up by people buying boats as investments. He reckons that in the last five years particularly, buying for investment has gone up significantly. Nevertheless, Albion Quay continued to be occupied by a community that is driven by their love of boats and the river, not capital gains. There are a number of families on the mooring and there remains a strong sense of community.

Oyster Pier is a new facility at the downstream end of Battersea reach that opened in October 2012. It offers luxury living on the tidal Thames with access to a number of shore side facilities. It occupies the site that was once Regents Wharf and Grove Wharf, which operated as industrial wharves from the late nineteenth century.

The Pier is a residential pontoon moorings with berths available for long term leases. The pontoons are arranged parallel to the riverside walkway and have space for ten boats. All the moorings are provided with full services, such as fresh water, electricity, sewerage connection, telecoms [6]. Each berth comes with a long-term lease of sixty years at a cost of £1.5 million, which is to be paid in three instalments, plus a £7,500 annual fee to cover pier maintenance and resident pier master. Residents have full access to facilities at a shore-side luxury hotel, including the use of the concierge, room service and gym. Oyster Pier is marketed as the most luxurious mooring in London.

Plantation Wharf Pier is another recent development, from the same group that produced Oyster Pier. The moorings have space for nine residential boats and a stop for passenger boats. Plantation Wharf Pier opened to river passengers in November 2015 [7]. A floating home with fully functioning engine and navigation equipment was available for advertised for sale in August 2016 at Plantation Wharf for £1.38 million. The three-bed vessel had a 123 year lease on the mooring [8].

Notes:

[1] The Bartlett, UCL. 2013.. Survey of London. Chapter 8 (Draft chapter)
[2] Ibid. p.11
[3] Ibid. p.46
[4] Interview with Nicholas Symes, London, 13 April 2016
[5] Ibid
[6] http://www.oysterpier.com/faqs...
[7] http://www.plantationwharfpier...
[8] http://www.riverhomes.co.uk/pr...