Crane, yes. But tidal Crane? You could be forgiven for not knowing that the river we glimpse at Moormead and alongside the Cole Park Allotments is tidal in its final stretch from (roughly) the Northcote Road footbridge to the Thames.
Today it is one of the loveliest parts of the river, dotted with boats and overhung with willows, running behind Haliburton Road, Crane Avenue, Eve Road and Talbot Road. But in the 1970s, the view from bottoms of those gardens would have been very different.
According to Richard and Carolyn Bloor, who live in Haliburton Road “Among the objects we found in the bank were a rusted fender, bed springs, mud thickened cloth, a water tank and a corrugated iron, clay ginger beer bottles and part of a marble hearth. There were also two islands in the river, mainly made of garden waste which had caught on snags, one of which was the saddle of a bike which was buried in the river bed.”
The Bloors, along with families in Eve Road and Northcote Road, acquired small boats and set about making the tidal Crane navigable to the Thames for the first time in around a hundred years.
The 1977 Queen’s Jubilee was central to this initiative as residents held their first ever River Clearing via jubilee organizing committees and street parties.
Among photos of the occasion is one of Adam Cade, from Eve Road, with his canoe of celebratory ‘royal visitors’.
There was also something else to celebrate around this time. The GLC had announced plans to make the tidal Crane into an open concrete channel with a road running alongside it - their plans showed a Landrover driving past the bottoms of the gardens. They had reckoned without the tenacity of the tidal Crane residents who eventually, after a long battle, succeeded in getting the plans changed to the much more sympathetic ‘staggered’ culverting and landscaping seen today.
As part of the agreement, their boats were moored free of charge at local marinas while the works were completed.
At the ensuring celebration when the river re-opened to boats, the morning river clearing, afternoon tea and end of day barbecue was established as a pattern that has endured ever since. In the early days, residents with boats would arrive at the afternoon tea by water!
For the 40th anniversary of the original 1977 river clearing day, the Tidal Crane Association worked with the local residents’ association (NSMRA) to hold an extra special River Celebration Day. A Tea Party featured a display of archive photos from our early history (we believe we are the oldest river friends group in London) and some of the residents who originally cleared the river came along to share their reminiscences and pose for a ‘reunion’ photograph.
The Crane was the cradle of the UK’s Skiffle music movement and the Tea featured a pop-up Skiffle group which was a big hit with all ages.
Our evening barbecue included ‘Bats About the Crane’, a talk by TCA Chair Cris Edgell, with bat listening devices. The local bats obligingly appeared and called to each other on cue.
Most important of all, just as the local residents did all those years ago, we got in the river and cleared the rubbish. This exercise has become a great deal less arduous since those pioneering days, consisting now of the occasional bike, bottles, cans and supermarket bags. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that children, now as then, joined in: the older ones helping with smaller items, the younger ones enjoying a River Dipping session with nets and a chance to see some of the creatures in our wonderful river.
All being well, this very special event will inspire future generations to go on caring for the terrific Tidal Crane.