Shadwell – Limehouse walkabout

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St George in the East – the psychogeographers’ church (‘a nodule of energy’ in Iain Sinclair’s city). You have to risk death crossing the Highway with shipping containers and cement mixers competing to turn you into road marmalade.

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‘Ornamental Canal’ should be an oxymoron shouldn’t it – I can’t separate canals from their industrial heritage, and yes I’ve been to Venice but not before I’d lived in Hackney.

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Shadwell Basin – the oasis of the east, London’s blue lagoon. Joggers pound down the avenue of early hawthorn blossom along one side.

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For some reason this converted wharf made me think of the early 90’s – the pre-Black Wednesday chutzpah that would turn into a 1980’s hangover.

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“I wonder whether the citizens of London E14, know where they are living?” wrote Tom Pocock in his London Walks. Published in 1973, Pocock walks from Wapping to Limehouse at the point of transition from docklands to riverside resort of City bankers.  He observed, “The danger is of polarisation: the rich by the river, the poor inland. But what a place this could be!”

 

 

Old Stairs of the Thames at Wapping and Shadwell

shadwell stairs

Onto the No.339 bus down to Shadwell in search of the locations of a series of old photos in Wonderful London (circa 1926) of two sets of the old Watermen’s Stairs on the Thames. This beguiling picture above is of the Ratcliffe Cross Stairs. The caption reads: “.. an ancient and much used landing place and point of departure of a ferry. There is a tradition that Sir Martin Frobisher took boat here for his ship when starting on his voyage to find the North-West Passage.”

ratcliffe cross stairs

Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

This is the Ratcliffe Cross Stairs today (or at least that is what I’ve deduced from old maps and descriptions of the location, at the junction of Broad Street, Shadwell and Narrow Street, Limehouse) protruding out from the bottom of a block of flats as the lunchtime City joggers pound across the wooden bridge above. The Watermen of the 21st Century cruising past in their City Clipper tour boats.

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Wonderful London also offers this view of the Thames from the muddy foreshore at Shadwell at Low Tide looking eastwards.

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No barges marooned on the shore the day I was there – the Towers of Mammon rising around the river bend on the Isle of Dogs.

Pelican Stairs

Pelican Stairs Prospect of Whitby

Pelican Stairs

Running down from the historic Prospect of Whitby pub (dating from 1520) are the Pelican Stairs, where on the shore some wag has erected a noose in honour of the ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffries who was a regular at the Prospect.

King Henry's Stairs Wapping

King Henry’s Stairs

Heading West along Wapping High Street you encounter King Henry’s Stairs. Although these historic riverside rights of way have been preserved, some have been allowed to slowly decay.

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Wonderful London describes Wapping Old Stairs as “one of liveliest spots in the country” in the great days of the maritime Thames.

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Wapping Old Stairs today

“but the swaggering sailormen and the loathly crew of bullies and harridans who prey on these Jack Juncks and Bill Bobstays during their few days ashore have, happily, gone as completely as the foul dens that harboured them” – Wonderful London

Wapping Old Stairs video with the sound of the Thames lapping against the stone steps