Letter: Pride in our maritime past

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The Independent Online
Sir: Three cheers for the sentiments expressed by Professor Kennedy in his lecture at Churchill College, hailed by Andreas Whittam Smith (article,10 February).

How many of the people involved in the plans for the millennium centred on Greenwich or the Masterplan for improving the Thames are even aware of the great maritime heritage of the area?

Hidden along the banks of the Thames between Southwark and Blackwall are the remains of Britain's greatest maritime achievement in the age of sail. About 1400 East Indiamen from 300 to 1400 tons - in an age when most maritime trade, coastal and oceanic, was carried on in boats of 100 tons or less - were built in the merchant yards between 1600 and 1830.

The Indiamen succeeded the Portuguese in discovering and exploiting the traditional trade routes of the eastern seas, skilfully and meticulously charting them and helping the Navy to defend them successfully against their European rivals. Together they created the foundations for British maritime supremacy in the 19th century.

If the Thames were the Seine. the Masterplan for improving it would bring this great heritage to the public's notice. The far less significant and much shorter-lived French Compagnie des Indes has been officially promoted for years with a lavish extravagance quite alien to our narrow vision.

JEAN SUTTON

Bournemouth, Dorset

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