Robin Hood Gardens and along Poplar High Street

I’d been meaning to go for a proper look around Robin Hood Gardens for a while (a journal entry from July 2008 notes the idea of making a documentary about the estate’s proposed demolition), the eventual visit made more urgent by news that its demolition had begun. An iconic council estate designed by lauded architects Alison + Peter Smithson and completed in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was being demolished to make way for a new development called Blackwall Reach consisting of 1575 new homes of which 550 are said to be available for social rent. The Evening Standard, a paper not noted for its support of social housing campaigns in the past, reported in 2017 that flats in the new development were already being marketed to investors in the Far East.

Robin Hood Gardens Poplar

Robin Hood Gardens demolition

Climbing the central mound in the open space designed by the Smithson’s as a ‘stress free zone, a calm pool’, you could see into the shattered shell of the western block, some of which is being preserved by the V&A. It’s odd to think of people visiting a museum to look at how people used to live in a brutalist council estate of the 1970’s in the way that we visit a reconstructed Iron Age Village. Is that where social housing is heading – a curiosity in a museum? I sincerely hope not.

Robin Hood Gardens demolition

Blackwall Reach development Poplar January 2018

Blackwall Reach development Poplar

Robin Hood Gardens

A kit of pigeons fly synchronised circuits of the interior space returning to their roosts on the upper ledges of the eastern block that still houses the last of the remaining inhabitants, although fewer in number than their feathered neighbours. What will the pigeons make of Blackwall Reach, I wonder?

Poplar Town Hall / Lansbury Hotel

Poplar Town Hall / Lansbury Hotel

Moving along Poplar High Street we see how the old Poplar Town Hall has been converted into a boutique hotel named after Poplar’s Labour MP George Lansbury, although ironic, at least the conversion saved the town hall from a mooted demolition and joining Robin Hood Gardens in the annals of the disappeared.

St. Matthias Church Poplar

St. Matthias Church

Beside the East India Company’s Meridian House, built in 1806, lies a semi-hidden East End gem. St Matthias Old Church was built in 1642 by the East India Company, both as a company chapel and to serve the riverside parish of Poplar and Blackwall. Apparently churches built in the civil war period are a real rarity, a booklet published by the LDDC and English Heritage lists two others (in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Leicestershire). There appears to be a children’s playgroup inside, so I decide not to intrude with my camera and instead make a loop of the quiet churchyard.

The wind blowing down Poplar High Street is starting to bite, my circuit has returned to Poplar DLR station and a glide along the rails back to Stratford.

Doorways and Alleyways of East London

Dragged the family out for a wander around the vicinity of Brick Lane.

The boys weren’t that enthusiastic but I promised them some kind of adventure.

The usual parental instruction to ‘stay close’ and ‘hold my hand’ was loaded with the added tale that these streets were known to consume people, that you could stop to tie your laces, your friend would wander into one of these lanes and alleys never to be seen again.

Cock Hill

‘Where do they go?’, the boys asked
‘They’re devoured by the city itself’, I said
‘That’s just nonsense’, the eldest retorted
‘Yeah, just stupid’, added the little one.

We have a set of Bob and Roberta Smith letter blocks at home.
Heidi and the boys admired this mural and concluded that it would have been better if Bob had done it.

Commercial Street

There was an absence of graffiti tourists today – no lumbering parties touring early Banksy’s and derivatives.
We had the walls to ourselves.

The C18th Huguenot doorways of Fournier and Princelet Streets kept them occupied.

There was a big bonfire out the back of Christ Church Spitalfields sending great plumes of smoke over the rooftops.

We grab bagels in Brick Lane then walk down Bethnal Green Road under a full moon to the tube station.

london

Docklands Walk – Island Gardens to East India Dock

Docklands Walk - Canon Powershot SX230 hs video test from fugueur on Vimeo.

It’s taken 23 years but I’ve fallen in love with the DLR. I’ve used it twice in recent months and it has beguiled me with its charms. It makes me feel like like the early train passengers riding an iron horse.

Entrance to Greenwich Foot Tunnel

Yesterday my two urges of getting to water and riding the DLR coincided. The family were inert at home so I headed to Island Gardens. I was tempted straight away to head down into the Greenwich Foot Tunnel but had no interest in what was at the other end. I wanted to skirt the eastern periphery of the Isle of Dogs.

The memorial at Dudgeon’s Wharf is a reminder of life in Docklands before the biggest threat to the area was trouble in the money markets or a rise in the price of Bolly. In July 1965 six people, including five firefighters, were killed in an explosion at a chemical storage facility here.

Dollar Bay

I struggle to find much to say about Docklands, it already feels overly mediated. It is also puzzlingly paradoxical. There are fragments and echoes of its past like sections of wharfs and jetties, decommissioned cranes. But on the other hand it is utterly removed from the rest of the city – a private estate, a samizdat Singapore.

I always feel like an intruder in Docklands, unwelcome and illicit. I’m long-haired, bearded, wearing shorts and sandals topped off with a baseball cap – that probably breaks at least two recently imposed local by-laws.

Lady Daphne and the Greenwich Uplands

It’s the Thames Festival this weekend – maybe that’s where the urge to head for the water originated. I caught a glimpse of the Lady Daphne chugging her way eastwards after a day of ferrying passengers as part of the festivities.

signwriting worthy of Bob and Roberta Smith

The opposite shore in Greenwich still seems to be clinging onto some vestige of its industrial functions. But the glass and steel towers are on their way to keep the Millennium Dome company.

I wound up at East India Dock, unable to finish my walk with the statutory pint. So it was back on the DLR and into the Leyton Technical pop-up pub in old Leyton Town Hall for a fantastic pint of Windsor and Eton Ale – this could well be the best thing to come out of the Olympics.