Thamesmead – and Plumstead Marshes – on film from 1970

“Thamesmead – with its own identity!

“But still a lively part of London, growing from the river, the changing Thames.”

Courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archive, here’s a corking film from 1970 about the development of Thamesmead, including footage of the old Plumstead Marshes as well as the Royal Arsenal lands now buried under west Thamesmead, as well as a fruity soundtrack and a super-posh pronunciation of “Erith”.

Utterly fascinating, not least for how much the new town was built to depend on cars, and also how the waterways were incorporated into the development. (“That water adds to the visual interest of a place has been evident for years in many parts of London” – so much for the old Surrey Canal.) Shame the international yacht terminal never happened, mind.

This Greater London Council film was shown at local schools in the early 1970s, and a second film, Living At Thamesmead, is also online. I’m told (by Charlton Athletic matchday announcer Dave Lockwood, no less) that another one exists about the building of the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach. Time to petition the archive to get that on YouTube too…

Thamesmead fans might also enjoy episode 45 of the fine South London Hardcore podcast, which deals with SE28’s appearances on film and TV.


  1. Now remember this was 30 plus years ago when I last saw the films. We regularly had “information” films shown to us at Junior school, Timbercroft in Plumstead. Many of them came from the GLC, well it was an ILEA school after all. For those of you who don’t know what ILEA was just look it up.

    I’ve been thinking overnight and I’m not actually sure that there was a whole film on the A102, it may have been part of a film about GLC infrastructure projects, I definitely remember the camera panning on the bridge across the approach road up by the Working Men’s Club at the Standard.

    So good luck Inspector in your quest and please let me know if you find it!

  2. “… to rely on existing communications would have been impractical… ….a new river crossing will be tunnelled beneath the Thames at Tripcock Ness..” At least Crossrail will open in time for the 50th anniversary.
    Thanks for this, it’s fascinating. If only they’d kept the colour coding from the models.

  3. Valerie Wigfall’s book ‘Thamesmead – back to the future’ gives a great insight into the original plans for Thamesmead and what it could, and should, have become. Ideas such as a marina and utilising the entensive riverside, lakes, and canals, and a direct link across the river and to central London (things like the Jubilee line proposals). Abbey Wood Crossrail is now supposed to help but for most of Thamesmead Abbey Wood station is not close by. It’s a very long walk requiring walking across dual carriageways and desolate, isolated subways and bridges. There are buses of course but factor in walks to stops, waiting, then the journey on busy and meandering buses and it adds a fair chunk of time on.

    Ignoring the waterways was another major mistake that happened after deviating from original plans. The marina was abandoned, and the most basic errors made in not embracing the natural (and sometimes man made) rivers and lakes. Just look at it today – the waterfront leisure centre is right next to a lake but turns its back on it. Why wasn’t the building better designed to make better use of the lake next to it, along with cafe’s, restaurants, public areas, and shops built that face onto the lake? The large Morrisons store (former safeway) is right next to another lake but ignores it completely. Instead the vast retail shed and car park turn their back and ignore the asset right next to the site. Very poor planning and design. Look at a google earth satellite view of the site to see just how poor it is.

  4. Great find. The second video is fascinating too, kind of like a propaganda film to balance out the Stanley Kubricks of this world. I went for a walk the other day along the same route as the young couple in the film. I found desolate buildings and a crack pipe on the floor.

    Would be interesting to see how the revamp changes the place.

  5. I did a dinghy sailing course at Thamesmead. While I was sitting waiting for the first lesson to start, someone rushed in to the clubhouse and said ‘Er mate, I think the kids have set your boat on fire’. We all rushed out, right enough, the mainsail was on fire on one of the moored dinghies, in a small way. The instructors put it out pretty quickly, fuss subsided. The guy who’d been waiting silently next to me said ‘Does this happen every week?’

    Anyhow my one Thamesmead story aside, I like it, but I’ve never lived there I suppose. Really I popped by to say that I know most people will know about these but a discussion of Thamesmead back in the day doesn’t seem right without a link to Mak’m’s amazing photos on Flickr.

  6. thanks so much for posting the film on Thamesmead. By chance I find footage of my dad, who was one of the local clergy at the time, and sadly passed away last year.

  7. Absolutely fascinating. I remember seeing Thamesmead starting to be built- could see the cranes from my bedroom window! It’s true that, whatever the drawbacks of the originally built areas, what followed in the 70s and 80s was miserably cut-rate, and abandoned the principles of preserving and enhancing waterways (or, as murky above notes, ignoring them. It’s sad too that more land wasn’t left as it was- but at that time the value of grazing marshes was not appreciated.

  8. as a boy me and my mates played on plumstead marshes it was a wonderfull time for me i i could play there in my spare time that was before thamesmead was even thought of or abbey wood estatei lived in hartville road plumstead we walked down white heart road plumstead onto the sewer bank thats the only part of my playground left i find i really misss my boy hood days i now live in thamesmeadive seen my playground that started at plumstead bridge run right down to erith as i walk along the sewer bank i think im proberbley the only 1 of my gang left if anyone reading this remember me it would be nice to hear from you i went to conway road school plumstead then wickham lane school later called oakmere school until 1962like so many people i miss my childhood but think how lucky i was to be bourne in plumstead to have such a wonderfull playgroundto play in we didnt need computers or stuff like that although ive got a computer now id like to get some pictures of the marshes as they were before they were built on and taken from future children im sad so many locals missed out i thank god i was granted the privilage to be lucky to be born to experiance a childhood so rich innature animals plants flowers something children in concrete thamesmead now miss give me my world over todays anytime

  9. During the early 1970’s, i spent endless sunny summer Sundays exploring Thamesmead new town and the plumstead marshes area. It was fascinating to see this new town emerge from the marshes and watch the construction of the precast ‘Balency system’ flats taking shape. A special on-site factory used to manufacture the precast concrete cladding panels,walls and structural components. it was a great place to ride around on my bicycle and to explore the numerous ramps and deck accesses. In the first few phases, the living accommodation was on ‘upper’ floors owing to the presence of marsh gas (methane), so the ground floors were assigned to garages and parking areas.

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