Over the last few years, I have followed with interest the work of Frank Creber and other East London artists who record their impressions of the ever changing East London cityscape and local people and their communities. Frank and fourteen other figurative painters are bringing some of their latest works for a new show at the Espacio Gallery, in Bethnal Green, East London.
The group of artists are known as the ‘Urban Contemporaries’ and have come together to investigate the urban experience through the medium of painting. Each artist have attempted to explore different aspects of the urban encounter through exploring scenes of everyday life.
Tennis Game, Frank Creber
The Exhibition features over 80 paintings providing glimpses into the very diverse visual experiences of fifteen painters, who chronicle the changing urban environment. Some use drawings and paintings as visual accounts to convey the disappearance of social and cultural landmarks, others interact with symbolic elements to transmit feeling, atmosphere and humanity, exploring the sense of intimacy and detachment, specific to cities.
East Ham Timescape, Ferha Farooqui
The artists taking part in the exhibition are Timothy Hyman RA, Sharon Beavan, Frank Creber, Ferha Farooqui, Grant Watson, Michael Johnson, Elizabeth McCarten, Melissa Scott-Miller, Michael Major, Annette Fernando, Susanne du Toit, Alex Pemberton, Charles Williams, Gehin Evans and Sarah Lowe.
If you would like a preview into the work of some of the artists, their work can be viewed on their website here
Location: The Espacio Gallery is located at 159 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2, near Brick Lane.
The Exhibition will take place from Tuesday 5th to Sunday 10th March
Opening Times: Tues – Sat 1-7pm Sun 1-5pm.
In last week’s post about Millwall Dock, I mentioned that in the early 1950s, the Cutty Sark was bought into the Millwall dry dock for an inspection and repairs.
Cutty Sark is now a major landmark in Greenwich where she has sat serenely for over 60 years. But in the 1950s, her future was not clear cut and she became the subject of a public debate about what to do with the famous old clipper. Cutty Sark was built on the River Clyde in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest. She came into service at a time that sail was giving way to steamships.
The Cutty Sark spent only a few years working on the tea trade before being used to bring wool from Australia, quite often she would bring her cargo into West India Docks. The Cutty Sark became famous due to her races against Thermopylae, especially the one that took place in 1872. The Cutty Sark was damaged and finished second but most people were agreed that she was one of the fastest clippers of all time. The ship held the fastest time achieved between the UK and Australia for ten years.
Cutty Sark and HMS Worcester at Greenhithe in 1938
For all her fame, the days of sail were nearly over and the ship was sold to the Portuguese company Ferreira and Co. in 1895 and renamed Ferreira. There she continued as a cargo ship until purchased in 1922 by retired sea captain Wilfred Dowman who remembered some of her past glories and he used her as a training ship in Falmouth. After he died, Cutty Sark was transferred to the Thames Nautical Training College which was based near Greenhithe in 1938. There she became an auxiliary cadet training ship alongside HMS Worcester.
By the early 50s, it was considered that this career had come to an end and various ideas were put forward as regards what to do with her.
A number of newspaper reports of the time gives some idea about the debate.
Cutty Sark to Sydney?
LONDON, December 25 1951 (A.A.P.).— A famous tea clipper may end its days in Sydney Harbour.The Evening News’ gossip writer says that sailing enthusiasts are discussing the possibility of sailing the Cutty Sark to Australia. The Thames Barge Sailing Club president (Mr Hugh Vaudrey) said the lowest estimate of the cost of refitting the vessel was £10,000 sterling. Mr. Vaudrey believes that strongly-supported Cutty Sark societies in Australia and New Zealand would help bear the cost. He added : Out there they regard the Cutty Sark the same way as Americans do the Mayflower.
Plan for Cutty Sark to Sail Again
A dispute has arisen over a proposal to reconstruct and refit the world’s only surviving clipper, 83-year-old Cutty Sark, and sail her to Australia and New Zealand. The man behind the idea is a London solicitor, Mr. Hugh Vaudrey, who says the plan has the sympathetic backing of members of Cutty Sark societies in Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada. Mr. Vaudrey, who founded the Thames Barge Sailing Club, which has the Cutty Sark Preservation committee, believes that the clipper could be made seaworthy and a crew recruited.
The project is strongly opposed as completely impracticable by the Greenwich National Maritime Museum, which considers that the vessel could not make a sea journey of any length and that officers and crew would be unobtainable.
Director of the museum, Mr. Frank Carr, said: — ”We would like to see the Cutty Sark cradled in concrete at Greenwich as Nelson’s Victory is at Portsmouth. This would cost upwards of a quarter of a million sterling, but we are assured of Government, London County Council and private support, and feel sure all Dominion shiplovers would help also.
‘However we feel that the present isn’t the time for such expenditure and are prepared to wait for upwards of four years before launching an appeal. ‘The vessel is at present owned by the Thames Nautical Training College, and is capable of staying afloat at her berth at Rotherhithe for at least that time.
Permanent Home For Cutty Sark
LONDON, Tuesday. — Famous old racing tea and wool clipper Cutty Sark may be preserved for all time as the result of an offer by an “anonymous body.”
AN official of the Thames Nautical Training College, where the clipper is moored, said that she would be taken from Greenhithe to Mlllwall tomorrow for survey to see if she was in suitable condition for permanent preservation.
After that she will either moored in the river or put into dry dock at the college to be kept open for visitors.
The Cutty Sark was taken to Millwall for a survey and repairs but this was not without incident. In January 1952, the 800-ton tanker MV Aqueity collided with Cutty Sark’s bow in the Thames. The two ships were locked together after the collision which forced Cutty Sark’s jib boom into Worcester’s forecastle rails, snapping the boom before scraping along Worcester’s starboard side. Cutty Sark’s figurehead lost an arm in the process and the Cutty Sark was towed to the Shadwell Basin for repairs.
In the end the money was raised and the ship was finally bought to dry dock in Greenwich. But as many people may know, even that was not the end of the story with two fires that threatened to destroy the old clipper.
It is always a pleasure to see the old girl at Greenwich from the bottom of the Island and its important to remember that the ship has many longstanding ties with the West India and Millwall Docks.
One of the pleasures of living on the Isle of Dogs is it is a great place to walk. Unlike much of London, cars are not found in great numbers and much of the Island has areas to walk well away from the road. Although the promenades next to the Thames are lovely with wonderful views, the walk around Millwall Dock brings you to the heart of the Island and uncovers a number of surprising links to the past.
Millwall Docks 1934
The Millwall Dock was opened in 1868 and is L-shaped, with a ‘Outer Dock’ running east-west, and a ‘Inner Dock’ running north from the eastern end. Millwall Docks originally contained around 36 acres of water and the site covered 200-acres. Originally as shown from the above photograph, the western end of the Outer Dock was originally connected to the Thames at Millwall.
It is now possible to walk around the whole of Millwall Dock, which of course was not the case when the docks were working docks.
A good starting place is South Quay Station, a plaque on the wall pays tribute to the two people killed by an IRA bomb in the 1996.
Around the Inner Dock is new developments that have grown considerably in the last few years. Across the dock is the new Baltimore Tower and the Lotus Chinese Restaurant that has been on a large pontoon since 1994. Up from the restaurant is Harbour Exchange which has two 1960s cranes standing in front of the glass covered buildings.
Glengall Bridge is where the inner and outer dock connect but also marks where many of the large developments cease and the older developments from the 1980s are in view. These older developments were part of more low level housing that used the space around the dock when it closed down.
The Outer Dock is much more relaxing with plenty of swans and ducks swimming amongst the sailing boats from the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which is located at the far West end of the dock near where the dock previously connected to the Thames. The centre was set up in 1989 by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the Sports Council and provides plenty of water experiences to a wide range of people especially young people.
Near to the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre was the large West Ferry Printing Works, which was the largest newspaper print works in Western Europe when it was built-in 1984–6. It has now been flattened for yet more residential development. Walking on the other side of the dock gives wonderful views of Canary Wharf and allows you to look at many of the new developments at the top of the Island.
If you carry on, you end up the picturesque Clippers Quay housing estate built in 1984–8. Although now filled with water, this was the site of Millwall Dock Graving Dock which was a dry dock for ship-repair which opened in 1868. Many famous ships have been repaired in this dry dock including the Cutty Sark. It was said this dry docks was the best on the Thames, it was one of the largest, at 413ft long by 65ft wide with a depth of 25ft. It was closed and flooded in 1968 and is a haven for birdlife with swans and ducks enjoying its quite secluded location.
Walking on round the corner, you come across of a number of houseboats, mostly Dutch in origin , they offer some final interest before we come back to Glengall Bridge.
Unlike West India Docks, the buildings around Millwall Docks were more modest with sheds rather than grand warehouses. Therefore little remains from the estate from the working docks period other than 1960s cranes and a large number of bollards dotted about. But the docks themselves are still full of water and are an important resource for the Island. In the frantic redevelopment of the Island , the docks provides an attractive space and peaceful oasis to sit and watch the world go by.
Anyone who walks along the riverfront near Blackwall and the Virginia Settlers Monument could be forgiven for believing the area is a bit of a backwater, however for over 400 years this was the site of great importance in British Naval history for it was in this spot that hundreds of Merchant and Royal Navy ships were repaired and built.
Blackwall’s location just before the bend of the Isle of Dogs gained its popularity as an important anchorage from which travellers embarked and disembarked from as early as the fifteenth century.
The Virginia Settlers Monument pays tribute to the Virginia Settlers who set off from this part of Blackwall in 1606, Captain Christopher Newport led the Virginia Settlement expedition with three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. On board the ships were 105 men and boys, plus 39 sailors.
They carried with them a charter from the Virginia Company to establish a settlement in the New World. They arrived in Virginia in 1607 and created a settlement called Jamestown which became the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Captain Christopher Newport was born in nearby Limehouse and amongst the settlers were Captain John Smith who is known for his association with Native American Princess Pocahontas who later visited London and passed Blackwall on her way home, unfortunately she did not make it back to America but died at Gravesend.
The Virginia Settlers Memorial has a curious history, it was initially just a plaque on the wall of Brunswick House which was unveiled in 1928.
On the plaque is a depiction of three ships and a banner with the inscription ‘Dei Gratia Virginia Condita’
From near this spot, December 19 1606, sailed with 105 “adventurers”:
The “Susan Constant” 100 tons. Capt. Christopher Newport in supreme command;
The “Godspeed” 40 tons. Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold;
The “Discovery” 20 tons. Capt. John Ratcliffe.
Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia April 26 1607.
Arrived at Jamestown Virginia May 13 1607 where these “adventurers” founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt. John Smith, Edward Maria Wingfield President of the Council, the Reverend Robert Hunt and others.
At Jamestown July 30 1619, was convened the first representative assembly in America.
Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1928 in commemoration.
In 1947, following bomb damage, Brunswick House was demolished and the quay redeveloped. The Port of London Authority used the plaque as part of a large monument, which was made up of a pile of stones from the West India Docks or East India Dock with a bronze mermaid on top. Harold Brown designed the monument and the mermaid.
Remarkably there is a British Pathe news film of the unveiling in 1951. It was a very windy day as the American ambassador unveils the memorial but is fascinating to watch here
As the docks declined, so did the memorial which was vandalised and the bronze mermaid stolen. Eventually the area around the docks began to be developed for housing and Barratt Homes moved the monument to the riverfront of their development and commissioned a mariner’s astrolabe by Wendy Taylor to replace the mermaid. The renovated memorial was unveiled in 1999 and now has a pride of place opposite the O2 entertainment complex.
The Virginia Settlers were not the only pioneers to the New World to set off from this stretch of water. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed in the Mayflower from here to North America in 1620. The Mayflower pub and a statue in Rotherhithe celebrate this particular journey.