Dear Secret Agent Simeon,
Special forces in London have learnt that aliens are planning an attack on the Earth. Their primary method of control will be to transmit supersonic radio waves using the spikes of the O2 dome in North Greenwich as a broadcast relay. The code to jam the signal is out there somewhere! We just need you to follow the Trail and work it out!
Regards, Treasure Trails
Yet again, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), is called in to save the world. After receiving instructions from Treasure Trails, Simeon rushed to North Greenwich in London to search and unscramble clues. Here, Simeon exited the London Underground onto Peninsula Square. In front of him stood the multi-purpose O2 arena (formerly the Millennium Dome), upon which twelve 100 metre yellow spikes rose high into the air. After checking that the aliens were not already transmitting radio waves from the spikes, Simeon looked around for clues.
The ground on which Simeon stood was formerly known as Greenwich Marshes. The land once belonged to the River Thames until the 16th century, when Dutch engineers drained the area to use as pasture land. During the following century, the peninsula was also used to store gunpowder, which traders delivered by boat to places across the world. Also, in the 17th century, corpses of pirates were hung in cages to deter other would-be pirates from committing crimes at sea. Fortunately, the pirates were of no concern to Simeon; he felt more worried about the potential alien attack.
During the 19th century, Greenwich Marshes grew into an industrial area with Henry Blakeley’s Ordnance Works and Henry Bessemer’s steelworks taking up residence. During the 1870s, shipbuilders, oil companies and gas companies arrived, the latter of which dominated the peninsula for the next 100 years. East Greenwich Gas Works was the last of its kind built in London and spanned 240 acres, making it the largest gas works in Europe. It eventually closed in the 1960s after the discovery of natural gas reserves in the North Sea rendered it obsolete.
Significant development work took place during the 1990s, including new roads, cycleways, homes and commercial spaces. The decade came to an end with the opening of the Millennium Dome and North Greenwich station. The year 2000 saw the construction of Greenwich Millennium Village on the site of the old gasworks. Today, there are approximately 2000 flats and houses in the urban village. Nearby, the man-made Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park reflects the nature of the original marshland and provides a green space in the ever-growing city.
Until the Blackwall Tunnel opened in 1897, the only way to reach Greenwich Peninsula was by boat and foot. The railway did not pass through the area until 1999 when North Greenwich tube station opened on the Jubilee line. Simeon was pleased he could travel by train since he did not fancy swimming across the Thames. Since 2012, another mode of transport, the Emirates Air Line, takes passengers from the peninsula to the Royal Victoria Dock on the opposite side of the river. This is where Simeon headed next to seek out more clues.
The Emirates Air Line is a 0.62-mile (1.00 km) cable car service run by Transport for London (TfL). It carries 34 cabins across the Thames at up to 90 metres (300 ft) above ground level, providing stunning views across London. On a clear day, passengers can see as far as Wembley Stadium, 13 miles away.
After years of planning, the Emirates Air Line took one year to construct. Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Expedition Engineering and Buro Happold collaborated on the design, featuring three helix towers supporting the long steel cable. Each cable car can carry up to 10 passengers, meaning 2500 people can travel every hour. This is the equivalent of 50 busloads.
Whilst keeping an eye out of aliens, Simeon admired the view and excitedly pointed out the buildings he could see. From the cable car, passengers can appreciate the unique design of the O2 Dome, which appears much smaller from such a height, despite being large enough to hold 12 football pitches. In the distance, skyscrapers such as The Shard and One Canada Square (Canary Wharf) dwarf the surrounding buildings, including the peculiar shaped 30 St Mary Axe building (the Gherkin). Other notable structures include the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford, the London Eye and, on a clear day, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which connects Dartford in Kent with Thurrock in Essex.
Simeon’s spy documents told him to look out for the lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is the home of Longplayer, an installation that plays a piece of music with a total expected runtime of 1000 years. Composed by British composer and musician Jem Finer (b.1955), the music started to play at midnight on 1st January 2000. It will continue without repetition until 31st December 2999.
The lighthouse, sometimes known as Bow Creek Lighthouse, was built between 1864 and 1866 by Sir James Douglass (1826-98). There were once two lighthouses on Trinity Buoy Wharf, but the older was demolished in the 1920s. They were used by the Corporation of Trinity House to test lighting systems for lighthouses around the country. English scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) also conducted experiments with electric lighting.
Since 2005, the University of East London uses the wharf as the location of their fine art studios. The university also uses the old Chainstore as a dance studio. The BBC used the Chainstore as the filming location for series seven of The Great British Sewing Bee in 2021. The wharf is also home to the Thames Clippers, which sail Londoners and tourists up and down the river. When not in use, they store the boats on the pier.
Simeon dismounted from the Emirates Air Line onto the Royal Victoria Dock, the largest dock in the redeveloped Docklands. The original docks opened in 1855 on the unused Plaistow Marshes. Engineer prodigy, George Parker Bidder (1806-78), designed the docks to accommodate large steam ships and use hydraulic power to operate machinery. Initially, the dock was named Victoria Dock until it was granted the “Royal” prefix in 1880.
By 1860, Victoria Dock received annual shipments of 850,000 tons, over double the other docks in London. Unfortunately, damage during the Second World War made the dock impractical, and trade gradually declined until it ceased altogether in 1981. A decade later, the dilapidated area underwent redevelopment by the London Docklands Development Corporation. Most warehouses were demolished, and in their place, the Britannia Village and the ExCeL were built. Since 2009, Royal Victoria Dock is the location of the Great London Swim, during which participants swim a mile in the River Thames.
Simeon had no desire to swim in the Thames and set about looking for clues on dry land. So that the aliens could not spot him, Simeon made use of the Peekaboo bench on the waterfront. Designed by Portia Malik, the playful bench provides privacy for swimmers to change into and out of their swimming costumes and wetsuits. It includes hooks for a towel and two peepholes so the sitter can see what is happening on the other side of the bench. Simeon had great fun watching the world go by unobserved.
After successfully unearthing clues on the Eastern Quay of the Royal Victoria Dock, Simeon needed to cross the water to the Northern Quay. With no cable cars to take him across, Simeon searched for an alternative route. Swimming across was out of the question, so Simeon was relieved when he found the entrance to the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge.
Designed and built by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands in 1998, the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge is accessible at both ends by a lift and stair towers. Simeon did not fancy climbing up the tower to a height of 15 m (50 ft) above the water level, so he took the lift instead. The bridge spans 127.5 m (418 ft) and is tall enough to allow yachts to sail underneath.
From the top of the bridge, Simeon had a good view across the dock. He particularly enjoyed seeing aeroplanes taking off from London City Airport. The airport opened in 1987 and sees hundreds of planes taking off and landing every day. It is currently under threat from the political Green Party, who believe the planes cause “untold health and environmental problems to thousands of local residents”. Nonetheless, London City Airport continues to serve over 5 million passengers a year and flies to at least 35 destinations. Whilst Simeon saw many planes, he did not see any alien spaceships. “I must crack the code and prevent the aliens from attacking,” said Simeon as he tore his eyes away from the runway.
While crossing the bridge, Simeon spotted the derelict Millennium Mills, which the Evening Standard describes as a “decaying industrial anachronism standing defiant and alone in the surrounding subtopia.” The building closed along with the Royal Docks in 1981 and, as yet, has not been demolished or restored. Plans were made to redevelop the building with the rest of the Royal Victoria Dock, yet the Millennium Mills remain untouched.
The urban thrill seeker Christian Koch describes the Millennium Mills as a booby-trapped House of Horrors. “Danger awaits their every step in Millennium Mills. The rotten floors are comparable to thick slices of Emmenthal riddled with pigeon faeces and yawning holes that drop eight or nine storeys in some places.” The unused building has been a setting in several television series and films, including Ashes to Ashes (2008), The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2013), Paddington 2 (2017), and Alex Rider (2020).
At the other end of the bridge, Simeon took the lift down to ground level and emerged by the ExCeL (Exhibition Centre London). The convention centre opened on the Royal Victoria Dock in 2000. It has hosted several events over the past two decades, including the British International Motor Show, MCM London Comic Con, and the 2009 G-20 London Summit. In 2012, the London Olympics held several events at the ExCeL, such as boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. At the outbreak of COVID-19, the NHS transformed the ExCeL into a temporary hospital, which they named NHS Nightingale. Since the hospital closed, the site has become a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre.
Simeon did not need to visit the ExCeL to solve the remainder of his clues and work out the code to stop the aliens from attacking the Earth. Instead, he explored the northern quay, where he came across an interesting sculpture. Erected in 2009, Landed is a bronze sculpture by Australian fine artist Les Johnson. It was funded by the Royal Docks Trust, the ExCeL and the Queen Mother as a tribute to those who worked in the Royal Docks between 1855 and 1981. Landed depicts three larger-than-life dockworkers going about their daily work. One man unchains a delivery of goods while another tallies the items in a notebook. The third man stands by with a two-wheel hand trolley, ready to transport the items to the warehouse.
Johnson based the three men on real dockworkers. One is Johnny Ringwood, a former seaman who had sailed the world before working on the docks. At the age of 81, Ringwood, now living in Hornchurch, published his biography Cargoes & Capers: The life and times of a London Docklands man (2017), which describes his experiences at sea and on land. The tally clerk is modelled on Patrick Holland, who worked as a stevedore for twenty years. At the unveiling of the statue, his wife Patricia explained, “stevedore is a Portuguese name, this was a skilled job, and these men were in the hold of the ship all day unloading or loading.” The third man is Mark Tibbs, a boxer from Canning Town.
Finally, Simeon reached the end of his trail, worked out the code and jammed the alien’s signal. “Mission accomplished!” cheered Simeon. Compared with other missions from Treasure Trails, the Cable Car Mission was particularly difficult, but nothing can defeat a determined gibbon. As well as solving clues, Simeon learned a lot about the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Victoria Dock. He particularly enjoyed travelling in the cable car, even if it did momentarily stop, leaving him dangling over the Thames!
As a reward, Simeon treated himself to a chicken burger at Top 1 Forever, a restaurant based in the redeveloped section of Royal Victoria Dock. Well deserved!
To purchase the Cable Car Mission Treasure Trail, visit treasuretrails.co.uk
Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham