West India Dock ( New South Dock) National Maritime Museum
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Joseph Conrad wrote a series of essays under the title of the Mirror of the Sea about the various aspects of a nautical life. Conrad had for nearly 20 years worked on a variety of ships starting as a steward before working his way up to the rank of Captain. He had left Poland when he was 17 and then worked on French ships for four years before transferring to the British merchant fleet.
In 1894, Conrad he gave up the nautical life to pursue a career as a writer. Although it took a long time to gain success, many of his stories often with a maritime theme are now considered classics especially Heart of Darkness.
In the following piece, Conrad remembers the great days of the Clippers that used to be moored in the South Dock of the West India Docks.
To a man who has never seen the extraordinary nobility, strength, and grace that the devoted generations of ship-builders have evolved from some pure nooks of their simple souls, the sight that could be seen five-and-twenty years ago of a large fleet of clippers moored along the north side of the New South Dock was an inspiring spectacle. Then there was a quarter of a mile of them, from the iron dockyard-gates guarded by policemen, in a long, forest-like perspective of masts, moored two and two to many stout wooden jetties. Their spars dwarfed with their loftiness the corrugated-iron sheds, their jibbooms extended far over the shore, their white-and-gold figure-heads, almost dazzling in their purity, overhung the straight, long quay above the mud and dirt of the wharfside, with the busy figures of groups and single men moving to and fro, restless and grimy under their soaring immobility.
West India Dock ( New South Dock) National Maritime Museum
At tide-time you would see one of the loaded ships with battened-down hatches drop out of the ranks and float in the clear space of the dock, held by lines dark and slender, like the first threads of a spider’s web, extending from her bows and her quarters to the mooring-posts on shore. There, graceful and still, like a bird ready to spread its wings, she waited till, at the opening of the gates, a tug or two would hurry in noisily, hovering round her with an air of fuss and solicitude, and take her out into the river, tending, shepherding her through open bridges, through dam-like gates between the flat pier-heads, with a bit of green lawn surrounded by gravel and a white signal-mast with yard and gaff, flying a couple of dingy blue, red, or white flags.
In the New South Dock there was certainly no time for remorse, introspection, repentance, or any phenomena of inner life either for the captive ships or for their officers. From six in the morning till six at night the hard labour of the prison-house, which rewards the valiance of ships that win the harbour went on steadily, great slings of general cargo swinging over the rail, to drop plumb into the hatchways at the sign of the gangway-tender’s hand. The New South Dock was especially a loading dock for the Colonies in those great (and last) days of smart wool-clippers, good to look at and—well—exciting to handle. Some of them were more fair to see than the others; many were (to put it mildly) somewhat over-masted; all were expected to make good passages; and of all that line of ships, whose rigging made a thick, enormous network against the sky, whose brasses flashed almost as far as the eye of the policeman at the gates could reach, there was hardly one that knew of any other port amongst all the ports on the wide earth but London and Sydney, or London and Melbourne, or London and Adelaide, perhaps with Hobart Town added for those of smaller tonnage. One could almost have believed, as her grey-whiskered second mate used to say of the old Duke of S-, that they knew the road to the Antipodes better than their own skippers, who, year in, year out, took them from London—the place of captivity—to some Australian port where, twenty-five years ago, though moored well and tight enough to the wooden wharves, they felt themselves no captives, but honoured guests.
One of the most famous of the Wool Clippers was the Cutty Sark who regularly made the London to Australia trip often starting off from the West India Docks, it is somewhat ironic that a ship known for its speed in the water would end up ” captive” in dry dock in nearby Greenwich.
In October, the hulk of one of the oldest clippers The City of Adelaide will towed to Greenwich for a few days before being transported to Australia to be totally renovated.
Once more we welcome a Super Yacht in the West India Dock with the large and sleek Light Holic.
Previously known as the Darlings Danama, the ship has recently been sold and renamed.
In the mysterious world of Super Yachts, it is difficult to know who the new owner is and how much they paid for the Yacht , however before it was sold it was available for charter at 350,000 Euros a week.
Built in 2011 in Italy by CRN, it is certainly sleek and fits in well with the surroundings of Canary Wharf.
The ship is 59 metres (195 ft) long, a beam of 10 metres (33 ft) and caters for up to 12 guests and has a crew of 14.
Over the last few months I have introduced my readers to some of the writers and artists who either live on the “Island” or use the “Island” as an inspiration for their work.
Today I would like to introduce you to the work of Rebecca Mitchell a young up and coming artist from the Isle of Dogs.
Rebecca comes from a long established Isle of Dogs family whose creative artistic talent was encouraged from an early age by her family, particularly her grandmother who was a talented seamstress.
Self taught, she concentrated originally on pencil drawn portraits, then moved to drawing caricatures until recently moving on to paintings.
A talented rower herself , here she captures the effort and pain of a pair of rowers.
She enjoys drawing caricatures of 60s,70s,80s singers and musicians
Rebecca has an ambition in the future to undertake a road trip that would enable her to travel and paint in the United States.
However at the moment, being a self taught artist, she is now enjoying the challenge of studying Art and Design at College and in the future may consider going to an Art School or University.
It is always exciting to look at a young artists work at the beginning of her career and hopefully we will hear a lot more of Rebecca in the future.
I know the library very well as this building was used by us kids to open our eyes to the rest of the world.I would like to contribute to your story by giving information about the Library neighbours.. To the right the building in 1945 was a small concrete hut where an elderly gentleman with a long white beard sat on a high stool dishing out disinfectant from 3ft high decanters which were enclosed in straw. We had to keep it at arms length as it was so strong. He used to sit there all day chatting away to all and sundry. We gave him any old containers which he would fill and then we would take home for mum to do the washing and cleaning.Further down the street and to the left was a brick built First Aid Station about twice the size of the library but on one level except for a belfry which housed the siren. It was decommissioned in about 1946 and remained empty for some years. About 1950-54 it was used by us very untidy kids from Glengall Grove Secondary school as our hide-out. The teachers got wind of what we were doing and tried to bar us from this building.. One day we heard that the teachers were coming for us and about six of us climbed up into the belfry, about 30ft up, and hid in the beams. They were shouting and screaming and making all types of dire threats which resulting in one bright kid deciding to get his own back.. I wont admit I was party to this but the next thing I heard was… Christ its raining.. Then another teacher screamed it aint raining we are inside. Once again we were in the headmasters office with a copy of the Beano comic firmly held between our buttocks but alas the pain still came when that whiplash of a cane connected to our bottom. Sad to say we did not go to the hut many times after that and had to settle for getting into Hawkins & Tipson Rope works and undoing the ropes from the spindles.
At this point we were hungry and made our way to the river to wade into the mud and get aboard the peanut barges where we stuffed ourselves silly and then proceeded to make our shirts into bags so we could take some home to mum.
Getting back to the library: Just before and to the left was an Off License which I believe was called Happy go Lucky. It was a sacred site as it sold the Beano, Dandy and the most desirable of the lot The Eagle, which came out in glossy paper. It was a double storey building but got clobbered by a 500lb bomb compliments of the Luftwaffe which left just the first floor operational.
As it was made of the same material of the surrounding double storey tenement houses it was demolished in the early 50s.. Two days after it was gone we went on the site and found that the wreckers had left the cellar intact. When we got into it we found about 100 threepenny bits which to us was a fortune. Even after sharing 4 ways we were still able to lots of sweets and lots of comics.
Nobby and Joan and their three children then moved to Hadleigh in Essex in the 1970s and then decided to move to Australia where they have lived for the last 38 years.
Thames Tunnel – William Tombleson (19th Century)
In a previous post I related the idea of the time that the Blackwall Tunnel was considered the 21st Wonder of the World, however when the Thames Tunnel open in 1843 it was considered the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The excitement about the tunnel was well founded for it was the first tunnel constructed successfully under a navigable river, and it was the first use of a tunnelling shield technology invented by Thomas Cochrane and Marc Isambard Brunel that would revolutionise Tunnel Building around the world.
However for all its technical brilliance, the tunnel was an economic disaster. The tunnel was created to enable the safe transfer of cargo from the north at Wapping to the south of the river at Rotherhithe.
However by the time the Tunnel opened in 1843, there was insufficient money to build the shafts to enable horse and carts to descend into the tunnel.
Therefore originally the Tunnel became primarily a tourist attraction where people paid a penny each to enter, gradually shops began to appear in the many arches and entertainments were laid on for the large number of people who walked through the tunnel.
It was estimated up to 1 million people used the tunnel in the first ten weeks.
However when the “Tunnel Mania” died down, the tunnel began to gain a more unsavoury reputation as a haunt for criminals and prostitutes.
In 1860 a British born writer Richard Rowe (Peter Possum) who had made his name writing for Australian newspapers and journals returned to Britain and began to write articles which were sent back to Australia. The following article illustrates another use for the tunnel, namely a night shelter especially in Winter. “Peter Possum” is kicked out of his lodgings in Deptford and is down to his last penny when he decides to get out of the freezing cold and descend into the “Hades Hotel”.
“With all my worldly wealth I did endow the sleepy janitor. The metal turnstile jerked with a jar upon its pivot ; one arm of its Maltese cross gave way before me, another propelled me smartly into the interior of the extinguisher-like building that caps the shaft. I stayed not to admire the seedy works of art -damp-stained and peeling from the plaster-which decorate the walls, but hastened down, down, down the swollen belfry tower, eager for the comfort of the crypt.
Passengers were ascending the opposite staircases. I pitied their misfortune in having to issue into the bitter outside night, but their merry voices proved that they had homes to go to ; and then I pitied myself, with that unmixed compassion which even our Howards and Miss Nightingales, I think, reserve for personal distress.
Cramp had tied knots in my calves by the time I had reached the bottom of the well-when you are very, very tired, going down stairs is almost as wearisome as going up-but here, thank God, was my dormitory, and shaking the snow off me, as a dog shakes water, I prepared to make the best of my long bedroom. The right-hand roadway was blocked up with boards ; the other, it’s nearly circular strong arches growing less and less in the perspective, stretched on and on to a horizon of dim distance. A gas-jet in the centre of each arch of the dividing wall cast a bilious light upon the pavement and the opposite pie-crust coloured masonry. The stall-keepers had long since departed. Are they colliers’ relatives, I wonder, or “Puseyite penitents, those melancholy pale-faced women, who keep those ever gas lit stalls ? No music-drearier there, than ‘the sound of subterranean winds’, now echoed along the bald, vaulted corridor.
I thought it was quite deserted,…. when I carne upon a party of gesticulating Frenchmen, crowing over their English cicerone to the genius of their illustrious compatriot, ‘ Sir Brunel.’ ‘ De Tunelle,’ they asserted with much emphasis, ‘ vos de von only leetle ting in veech Londres bate Paris, and dat had been made by a Frenchman.’
They passed on, and presently a clatter of clogs on the stairs behind me announced that my Lancashire friend was coming. His Evelyn-street potations had evidently taken a powerful effect upon him. Hideously did he howl as he staggered along like a collier-brig under press of sail ; hideously did the low roof reverberate his howl. I prudently gave him a wide berth. The poor little Frenchmen scattered like seething foam before him, when he floundered into their previously self-complacent throng.
Again there was silence, broken only by the footsteps of rare driblets of passengers from either side. Longing, and yet not liking to lie down, until I should have the tunnel to myself, I patrolled its fatiguing length, quickening my foot-sore pace when I saw any one coming, in order to impress him with the belief that my passengership was no more permanent than his. I had done this three or four times, when I fancied that I had seen the face of a man who crossed me, at least once before. The look-half-shamedfaced, and half-I’m-as-good-as-youish-with which he returned my scrutinising glance, convinced me that I was right. He, like myself, was going to make a night of it in the Tunnel.
At first, I felt irate at having a witness of my poverty ; but remembering that he must be a sharer in it, I soon mastered the feeling, and determined to accost him as a brother in misfortune. His clothes, of a clerical cut, and faintly suggesting the clerical colour, but the slimy gleam of the poor man’s gloss, how different from the bloom of the rich man’s broadcloth creating the fancy that he generally slept in gardens with snails crawling over him. His muddy stockings budded from his heelless boots. His face was witheredly red and nose was like a galled leaf in autumn ; his eye was watery wild; his forceless lips hung limp ; he smelt of gin.
It was almost unnecessary for him to tell me his history, which, however, with the easy, egotistic openness of his class, he did begin to tell me before I been five minutes in his company, as we snuggled beneath a piece of tarpaulin in one of the stall-recesses, jamming our shoulders together to increase our warmth, or rather decrease the cold. He was a Cambridgeshire man, and had been a London curate. His love for liquor soon lost him his cure ; and then he had been a tutor and a bookseller’s buck; but his irregularities soon deprived him of these employments also, and now he was what is euphemistically called an ‘ occasional reporter for the press ‘ -that is, a penny-a-liner ; getting drunk when his “flimsey ” was accepted, roaming about roofless when his pocket was bare. He had just been carousing on the proceeds of an inquest, found, when he came to himself, that, strange to say, he had a penny left in the corner of his waistcoat, whither it had slipped through the tattered lining ; and being in Shadwell, had turned his steps to the Tunnel, an old sleeping-place of his he called it his Hades Hotel.
I had just fallen asleep, and was dreaming that I was a whale compelled to swallow one of those loathsome lures, when I was awakened by feet scurrying past my covert, I peeped out and saw a woman’s garments whisking from side to side to side as their owner rushed towards Wapping, whilst from the opposite direction came two pursuers, one with an open bull’s-eye in his hand, which shot out an expanding triangle of light, like arms extended to stop the quarry, should she double. The heavy boots of the policeman, and of a seafaring man with him, clumped echoing along the corridor, I taking care to keep well within my curtain as they went by me, and in a minute the fugitive was overtaken.
Then shrillest shrieks that had a most infernal sound down there and hysterical protestations that she had never so much as seen the fellow’s watch ; she didn’t believe the cowardly fellow had one, startled the stillness of the night ; and then she flings herself upon the ground, kicking and screaming like a passionate child, and swearing that they shall carry her then ; what time the policeman waits in ruthless stolid patience-a sort of Dutch Erinnys, until she shall be tired, finding that there is not much chance of this, he loses his patience, shakes her roughly, pulls her from the pavement, and, in a gruff voice, bids her hold her noise and come along, they’ve had enough of that there nonsense.
The trio repass me on their way to the Surrey side’ in company-the girl alternatively striving to propitiate the policeman by appeals to his gentlemanliness and gallantry, and vowing that she will have her accuser’s heart out ; the sailor, now that he has recovered his property, desirous to release the sobbing and vindictive thief, but prevented from yielding to his cowardice or kindness by the constable, who sternly tells him that he’ll be no party to ” crumplymising a felony.”
“When next I wake, my clerical companion is gone, and workmen, with tool-baskets at their backs, and swinging little tin coffins of bread-and-butter over wind-mills of coffee, are passing from both sides to their doily toil, With teeth clinking like castanets, and the rheumatism gnawing with icy teeth at every bone, I creep from my kennel, saddest of sad dogs. The world is all before me where to choose, but where or whatever i may choose, I feel I cannot get a breakfast. ” The Way Out, says the zinc-plate on the finger-rubbed Wapping shaft-door, with the pitiless imperativeness of a policeman’s “Move on ! ” The morning outside air gives me the spiteful, Miss Murdstone-like peck of a kiss which it always gives to those who meet it before they have washed. Broad-wheeled waggons are already crunching the nights snow into a viscous slush. Disconsolate indeed, I am standing at an open-air ” coffee” stall in the neighbourhood of the Docks, covetously sniffing its fumes of scalding decoction of chicory, when whom do I see but the rosy little mate of the vessel in which I sailed from Australia ! Something stronger than coffee puts life into me in the cabin of the good ship Burra Burra and the loan that I obtain secures me “-at all events., for a week to come, from having to pass another night in the Tharnes Tunnel” .
The days of the “Hades Hotel” did not last for long because in 1865 the tunnel was converted for use to be part of the underground railway system.
To find out more about the Thames Tunnel and events at the Brunel Museum based above the tunnel , go to the Brunel Museum website press here
The Stavros S Niarchos is a British brig-rigged tall ship owned and operated by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. Built in 2000, She has been used to give young people the opportunity to develop skills and talents whilst undertaking voyages to various locations. She is also available for voyages and holidays which provides revenue to maintain the operation of the ship.
Since its inception in the 50s the organisation has taken 97,000 trainees to sea and sailed 1.8 million nautical miles.
The ship has a Length of 197ft / 59.4m, Masts of 148ft / 45m and Beam of 32ft / 9.9m.
She usually operates a crew of 69 which include regular crew and volunteers.
Unusually for a Tall Ship, the Stavros Niarchos is for sale due to the often high running costs of operating a boat of this size.
Whatever her future fate she is the latest of a number of Tall Ships who have graced the West India Dock this year.
The Stavros Niarchos in full sail (Tall Ships Youth Trust )
In a previous post I have written about the hidden treasures in Trinity Buoy Wharf, on a recent visit to my surprise the approach to Trinity Buoy Wharf had been used for a large amount of Street Art. It is a interesting blend of the weird and the wonderful and I have selected a few of the works for today’s post.
Trinity Buoy Wharf is now the centre of an Arts Quarter and is often used for exhibitions and performances.
Other Posts you may find interesting
London’s Lighthouse – The Mysterious World of Trinity Buoy Wharf press here