April at Vauxhall gave us a surprise or two.
It was a lovely morning for a visit to the foreshore, but we soon started to see some significant changes to the site. Whenever this happens, we tend to go through several stages of denial;
- Hmm, something looks different.
- Err, was that like that before?
- No. I’m pretty sure that’s different.
- Right, yeah, definitely.
- We need to get the last lot of photos out and do a specific ‘before and after’.
- Am I going mad? Is that different?
We had several of these moments, with the changes probably caused by the high tides and recent heavy rain.
The first noticeable difference was to the levels of the foreshore immediately upstream of Vauxhall Bridge.
For years there has been a great big pool in front of St. George’s Wharf. Sometimes it’s filled with water; sometimes it’s filled with mud; very occasionally it clears out a bit and is filled with air; actually it’s mostly filled with mud.
On the day of our visit, part of it was filled with foreshore. To the extent that you’d never know it was there. Not all of it, but a whole section at one end has definitely been filled in.
The view from the bridge shows this. On the right is a photo taken in October 2015. You can see the edge of the pool runs almost all the way to the bridge. In the photo on the right, taken on this month’s visit, you can see that it’s totally gone!
A little further on, upriver, we stopped and scratched our heads again.
These features have been a bit of a constant in this area since we started coming here. At first we could only see the very ends of the structures (we don’t actually know what they are but they look like dumped structural elements, so we’ve been referring to them as ‘girders’).
Over time the bank around the girders has been continuously eroded, gradually exposing more and more of them. Now, there seems to have been a collapse and the top girder has fallen out of the bank, leaving just an indentation where it had previously been.
We also seem to have acquired an entirely new feature. From beneath an unassuming patch of manky concrete consolidation, of which we have remaining patches all over the site, came this:
It looks like it might be another one of these:
And they do line up. And line up with the entrance to the Effra dock.
We’re not sure what these are, but this image from 1971 (London Metropolitan Archives) could hold the key.
And as early as 1861, Whistler produced this etching:
It looks like there were towers/dolphins with, possibly, small offices at the top. These are directly in line with the Effra dock entrance, so there’s a good chance that they were associated with it.
(I couldn’t wade out far enough to get the whole of the furthest feature in the picture but you can see the front corner at the bottom of the image, with the new feature two-thirds of the way up and the dock entrance above that).
We’re always going on about the remains of box structures on the foreshore, so this be one explanation. They could also be the housings for crane bases, landing platforms or something else entirely.
What the appearance of this feature really demonstrates is the dynamism of this stretch of foreshore. Last month when we were here, there was no sign of it. Just an unpreposessing patch of manky concrete.
This area of foreshore has been scoured enough over the last four weeks to remove a whole patch of concrete, fully uncover these chalk cobbles and move a significant amount of material around. There have been some pretty high tides recently, and it looks like this stretch of foreshore has taken a hit.