(click image to enlarge)
The River Thames was a focus of activity during the time of Thomas Rowlandson, and he was drawn to depict the life and landscapes that he found along it, from Henley to the Estuary. The stretch from Greenwich to Blackwall proved to be of particular appeal, with its mixture of docks, shipyards and halts for pleasure boats.
The present view of Greenwich from the Isle of Dogs focuses on the tower of St Alfege’s Church. The domes of the Royal Naval College are a little too distant to register, and the stretch as a whole seems entirely rural. A flavour of the setting is given by Edward Wedlake Brayley in the seventh volume of The Beauties of England and Wales (1808):
Greenwich ... is pleasantly situated on the banks of the Thames, which is here from 320 to 360 yards broad, at low water, and proportionately deep. The extensive circuit of the river round the Isle of Dogs, where the capacious West India Docks have been lately formed, has rendered this part of the channel very commodious for shipping from the earliest periods (page 468)
The tower of St Alfege had stood proud since Mediaeval times. However, the remainder of the church had collapsed and had only recently been rebuilt, in the years 1712-14, to designs by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the tower then being refaced and surmounted by a spire in 1730, to a design by John James. It was of patent interest to Rowlandson, who made two detailed drawings of the tower (that are now in the collections of the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, and the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT).
Around the bend from Greenwich is Blackwall, the docks of which were the subject of many of Rowlandson’s studies. The present drawing of busy docks was produced in 1806, in the same year that the artist etched Perry’s Dock, Blackwall, and it is likely that it too is of Blackwall.