Old Father Thames

On 28th February, we arrived at Southend-on-Sea lifeboat station. It was the start of the Project’s second mission.

The day’s first cup of tea had been poured as the Hovercraft Commander, Michael Whistler, showed me the local charts.

He pointed out landmarks through the window so that I could get a better idea of our location:

“…and over there — across the Thames estuary — is Sheerness. You’ll be going there one day too, I expect.”

Michael was right. One day I would be visiting Sheerness and it turned out to be sooner than I thought.


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The view towards Sheerness from Southend, incorporating the longest pier in the world…

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the UK’s geography, the River Thames is in the South East of England; it’s the large famous river that passes directly through the middle of the country’s capital city, London.

It flows into the city on the West side and meanders its way right through the heart, exiting on the East side becoming a wide estuary as it meets the North Sea.

Remember, you can check any of the Project’s locations on the interactive Mission Map.

As far as the RNLI are concerned, the two lifeboat stations I’ve mentioned aren’t officially Thames stations; Southend is an Essex station and Sheerness is a Kent station.

Officially, there are four Thames stations, all set up in 2002 as a direct result of the 1989 Marchioness Disaster enquiry.

From East to West those four stations are:

  • Gravesend
  • Tower
  • Chiswick
  • Teddington

While I chatted with Michael Whistler over that cup of tea, I realised something that hadn’t occurred to me before — by covering the estuary, Southend and Sheerness are both very much a part of the Thames story.

So, as far as the Project is concerned when recording this handsome river, I decided that I would like to consider the six stations together.


AN ASIDE…

I’ve used behind-the-scenes photographs to illustrate this post.

The final photographs are available as Limited Edition Prints and can be purchased directly from the page dedicated to the Thames:

BROWSE PRINTS


As you may remember, from Southend I then journeyed North and completed my documentation of the East Anglian coast.

During the long drive home to Newcastle on 23rd March, I started to ponder where I might take the Project next. It was then that I decided it was time to cover the Thames.

I’d proved to myself that the Project would succeed; now it was time to give it a kickstart and place the Project in front of the huge London audience.

If I started at Sheerness, I could close the loop and look back across to Southend before moving my way West through the Capital.

It would be a relatively short mission documenting the five remaining stations in this particular story but it was a mission that would turn out to be such an intense mini-adventure…


On 25th April — a cool, grey Saturday evening — I arrived at Sheerness Docks on the Isle of Sheppey some 400 miles from my home in Newcastle.

Finding the station located within the docks at Garrison Point was quite an eye-opener. I’d never seen anything like it and knew immediately that recording the view could not be covered simply by one photograph.

I parked up and stepped out into the bracing air. I love that first moment when arriving at a station — feeling the air on my face and breathing it in somehow gives me a real sense of where I am and what’s to come.

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The Sheerness Trent Class lifeboat (14-03) sneaking into view on the high tide…

A short trundle took me to the view I wanted to see: Looking North to Southend-on-Sea and remembering Michael Whistler pointing out Sheerness, the very point where I was now standing.

Somehow, that felt like the last moment of quiet contemplation. I’d done everything I could in planning this particular mission; from then on, it was a whirlwind of wonderful experiences and memories of which these are just a few:

Seeing the incredible Napoleonic constructions at Sheerness; parking Neena on the forecourt of the Port of London Authority at Gravesend; fundraising for the RNLI at Shoreditch; parking Neena with special permission on Victoria Embankment; meeting and photographing Janet Kelly, the woman instrumental in setting up the Thames RNLI stations; being joined for the day by ITV London News; making plates as the sun set over the Capital; staying overnight in a dormitory within Tower’s floating station; catching a River Boat later in the week and being waved at by the Tower crew as we passed by; helping a bedraggled fox at Chiswick; cruising at 40 knots on the Thames in an E Class lifeboat; the wonderful day at Teddington…

…and, of course, not to mention all the warm, generous people we met and photographed along the way.


SHEERNESS

Sunday 26th April 2015

Click here to view the finished photographs


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Looking over the top of the lifeboat and past Garrison Point, you can make out Southend in the distance between the buildings…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Robin Castle, Coxswain of thirty years, holding his freshly-made portrait on 12×10 inch glass…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Handing Nicki Wood her freshly-made plate at Sheerness on 26th April (photograph by Jonathan Knowles)…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Making the Sheerness crew photograph…

GRAVESEND

Monday 27th April 2015

Click here to view the finished photographs


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Looking downriver from Gravesend as the Thames estuary widens…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The Gravesend crew immortalised on 12×10 inch glass…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Neena given pride of place on the Port of London Authority’s forecourt…

MAYDAY FUNDRAISING (LONDON LIFEBOAT DAY)

Tuesday 28th April 2015


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Selling RNLI doughnuts, promoting the Project and collecting money in the bucket at Boxpark…

TOWER, VICTORIA EMBANKMENT

Wednesday 29th April 2015

Click here to view the finished photographs


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Photographing Waterloo Bridge over the roof of Tower’s floating station — the busiest on the entire RNLI network. By the way, can you spot Neena…?
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The Tower duty crew grab an early peek at their photograph…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Joined for the day by ITV London News and broadcast to millions of Londoners the next evening (photograph by Jonathan Knowles)…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Fixing the portrait of Janet Kelly, the woman instrumental in the setup of the Thames RNLI stations (photograph by Jonathan Knowles)…

CHISWICK

Friday 1st May 2015

Click here to view the finished photographs


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
The Chiswick crew admiring their plate…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
This fox had been chased by a dog into the river. A passerby lifted the poor fella from the river and brought him to the station so that he could be handed to the RSPCA…
The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
With Luke Dillon at the helm, the beginnings of a 40 knot journey along the Thames…

TEDDINGTON

Saturday 2nd May 2015

Click here to view the finished photographs


The final lifeboat station on the Project’s journey upriver along the Thames was, of course, Teddington.

That was a particularly extraordinary day and one that will need a blog post of its own, which I’ll publish over the next few days.

In the meantime, you can view the photographs I made on that sunny day by clicking here.

As ever, stay tuned…

The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe
Making the Teddington crew photograph — I’ll publish a blog post describing our day together shortly…

LIMITED EDITION PRINTS

Just 50 limited edition prints from each of the Thames plates are now available with a special opportunity to buy any three prints from the Project at a special price:

BROWSE PRINTS


SUPPORT THE PROJECT

I’d like to thank all those who’ve supported the Project to this point — it’s truly moving to see so many of you recognising the value in the photographs I’m making.

Remember, although the RNLI are supporting me logistically, I’m currently raising the funding under my own steam — in essence, my own form of crowdfunding.

Find out how you can support The Lifeboat Station Project and help to keep it on the road:

Support the Project


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

My sincere thanks to everyone I met along the Thames, for the warmth and generosity I’ve come to expect from the RNLI Family.

Special thanks to Robin Castle, Nicki Wood and Kerry Barnes at Sheerness;  Jason Carroll at Gravesend; Janet Kelly, Steve King, Chris Walker and Keith Cima at Tower; Ian Owen, Luke Dillon and Mark Turrell at Chiswick.

A final mention of thanks to my friends who all volunteered their time to help: Jonathan Knowles, John Chennells, Alison Blomfield, Chris Freudenberg, Louise Trevelyan and lastly – but by no means leastly — Hen(derson).

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