London Places – Docklands Museum

I have long wanted to visit the Museum of London Docklands as the various docks around London have always held a fascination for me.

The history of London Docklands is the history of the city itself. London exists because of the River Thames and the docks that have been constructed along it. Without the docks London would never have been able to generate the wealth that it did and, arguably, Great Britain wouldn’t perhaps have been so great.

Originally the “docks” would have simply been moorings along the banks of the Thames where ships from around the world would have offloaded their cargos. As trade increased the docks themselves were constructed to make the offloading of goods easier, more efficient and therefore more profitable.

As the Empire grew so did the need for bigger docks in London. London was the largest port in the world and as such the docks were by far the biggest, most impressive and most modern in the world. Many were constructed using private money and were named according to the origin of their goods; West India Docks, East India Docks, Greenland Dock and so on.

Not only are the docks of huge interest in themselves, but the people who lived and worked in the area are also fascinating, from the dockers to the Krays. Plus you also have one of the greatest unsolved mysteries by virtue of “Jack the Ripper”.

The Museum of London Docklands does a brilliant job of walking you through the story from the cities Roman origins to the Blitz and the eventual economic collapse.

If you find yourself in London head out to Canary Wharf via the Docklands Light Railway; enjoy the museum and the surrounding area. It is also a short hop over the river to Greenwich.

I really enjoyed my visit today and will be heading back as I found that there simply wasn’t enough time to take in all the information, exhibits and stories which were on offer.

If you are interested in London and it’s docklands this is an absolute must.Thames_river_1882

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Wapping

The Ford Cortina was parked just past the street light so that although it was lit, it was near impossible to see the two men who sat in the front seats. The car wasn’t that old, no more than a couple of years, but it was covered in dents and scratches. The red paintwork was faded in places and there were the first signs of rust appearing around the bottom of the doors. It may well have been older than the registration plates would suggest.

“What the fuck are we waiting for?”

“Will you keep your fucking noise down!” His companion retorted “Do you want the whole fucking street to hear you?”

“I’m just sick of waiting. We’ve been here nearly an hour already.”

“And we will be another hour if necessary, so shut your fucking mouth.”

WarehouseThis part of London wasn’t the best in which to wait for any length of time. Nobody was about, even the rats appeared to have abandoned the proverbial sinking ship. A couple of rather dull street lamps tried their best to push back the shadows, but they werent really succeeding. Everywhere the gloom seemed to be encroaching; drawing what was left of the life from the street and buildings on either side. There were so many places that somebody could stand and watch, and wait, completely out of view. Just wait for the right second when they could pounce on their prey.

It had been a bustling port until recently but now the cargo ships stopped at the new container docks in Tilbury. Some still came along the Thames but they didn’t travel any further than the Royal Docks which were bigger and more accessible. The London docks were dying and that was all too evident here in Wapping.

Either side of where they sat were the towering warehouse buildings, which would have been full of goods from all over the world. The roadway between was narrow, making the buildings seem taller than they actually were; the sky a very long way above.

Men would have been moving the cargo from the ships to the first line of warehouses along side the river itself. From there they were shifted across the high level walkways to the opposite side of the road and then into the lorries, to be delivered all over London. Men would have been everywhere, the whole area busy, noisy, dirty and above all alive.

Now they were all gone.

The two pubs on this stretch just about scraped a living. The  Prospect of Whitby had been open for ever with a formidable history in the trial and execution business. It was said that Judge Jefferies himself had held court there, meeting out his customary form of justice.

They waited. Silent now, neither of them having much to say. Just watching to see when he would arrive.

They had been told what to look out for; a silver Rolls Royce driven by a local “businessman” known as Billy Streater. Collect the package, complete the job and then get the hell out of there, were their very clear instructions. Don’t be seen, they had been told, but that was rather difficult considering how long they had waited.

“He’s here.”

The big car pulled up just a few yards away from them. The passenger got out of the Cortina and walked over. As he approach the drivers window silently slid down and a hand passed out a small package covered in brown paper,  little bigger that a tobacco tin…

The body was found the following day.

Behind the Prospect of Whitby is a “decorative” gallows which was there to remind people of the pubs past. Today it was no longer simply a decoration. He had been strung up and left to die. Part of his body almost certainly in the river water at some point. Hands tied behind his back. Cause of death would be confirmed later, but it was clear to all those present that morning that it had been slow and extremely unpleasant.

After the docks closed, much of Wapping was simply left to rot. The warehouses were home to tramps, drug users and others with no where better to go. That was until the developers moved in realising the potential for these buildings was enormous. Huge open plan apartments were built with magnificent views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Panoramas up and down the mighty River Thames.

It had been the best part of 10 years since that unexplained murder. Nobody had been arrested or charged. There had been no real leads. It wasn’t even clear how he had come to be there. Billy Streater drove a Rolls Royce but it was nowhere to be found. Two suspects had been seen waiting in an old Ford Cortina, but although the car was discovered a few days later burnt out near the gas works at Beckton, the men themselves were never traced.

During one of the development projects part of the floor needed to be broken out for new foundations. An internal walls was to be constructed; it needed to carry the weight of some machinery above. The builders had been working nonstop for days slowly inching their way from one wall to the other. The floor slab was about 18 inches thick and full of steel reinforcing rods. Below this was just mud, but breaking out the floor was taking forever. The job being made worse by the constant grief the foreman was giving them becauseWapping they were taking so long. Then they hit a soft spot. There was no more steel and the concrete itself wasn’t of the same quality, much softer and easier to break through. The last six feet of concrete to the wall was out in no time. Just the mud and the job was done, all being well they would be finished tonight.

They saw the hands first ….

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Manchester – a personal introduction

During this year Manchester has effectively become my home as I have spent more time here than the house for which I pay a mortgage. I blogged extensively while in Sydney and I have even written a few posts about recent visits to London, but so far nothing about Manchester. Well I think it is time that changed!

So far I have only been here during the working week and so have not had the opportunity to visit any of the attractions which I would like to see. But I have spent time wandering the streets of an evening, taking in some of the sights and trying out a few restaurants. Nothing too fancy, but I do have to eat and hotel food is rarely that great.

I have found the general feel of Manchester a little confusing. Initially it was just the place I went to work, just another hotel, just another bed. Then I spent two months in Sydney, which I found to be almost perfect and by far the best place I have ever spent time. That trip clouded my view of Manchester when I returned and so I found myself continuously comparing the two, with Manchester coming off a very poor second best.

Having been back for about six weeks now I have started to settle in a little and see parts of the city I do like; it isn’t all bad. Some things I still dislike; for example there is very little green open space within the city; the large parks you see in other major towns simply don’t exist. The streets aren’t as clean as perhaps you would like and there does seem to be roadworks everywhere. I have also noticed a large number of beggars and Big Issue sellers.

But in its favour the streets aren’t as crazy busy as you would see in London, there is space to move and breath. All the major stores are here and there are loads of places to eat. The office I work in is right in the centre of town, as have been the hotels where I stay which has allowed me to park my car and stretch my legs.

So Manchester is growing on me. The traditional red brick and sandstone buildings have an impressive grandeur about them, with a presents and strength which clearly states that they will stand forever. The toll of the town hall bell every hour marks the passing of time as it has for so long and for many years to come.

While reading through some articles this evening before writing this post, I found the answer to something that confused me while in Sydney. In Australia and New Zealand they still remember this cities roots in the cotton trade and as such bedding, towels and other household linen products are still referred to as “manchester”, signs for which I saw in most general and department stores.

So okay, Manchester isn’t all bad. I need to spend some real time here and visit some of those attractions which I mentioned earlier, have read about and seen the outside of. May be then it will grow on me some more.

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London Markets – Part 2

This Sunday, 15th June, was Fathers Day and so as a treat Lauren allowed me to take her out to visit two London markets; Portobello Road which I have wanted to see for many years but never quite made it, and Greenwich which is one of Lauren’s long term favourites.

Portobello Road

This is a world famous antiques market situated in west London. The crazy thing is that it is no more than 30 minutes from home but there always seemed to be something else taking priority.

Unfortunately for us Sunday is the day that most of the market is closed! However there was enough open to get a feel for the place, as well as a number of the amazing shops. One of the best for me was the Portobello Photography Gallery which has some seriously great pictures on display and for sale. Many show the “hidden” side of London with images of places and people that most of us would probably not normally see or notice.

One part of the market which was open was selling street food. My choice was a Cheeky Burger; in fact a cheeky cheese burger without the cheese much to the amusement of the young lady cooking.

Our next visit to Portobello will be on a Sunday, and soon.

Portobello

Next we headed to South London and Greenwich. This is not perhaps such a famous market, but as a town Greenwich is known the world over for the prime meridian and as the centre of global time!

Greenwich Market is open Tuesday through to Sunday and is crammed packed with antiques, collectables, arts and crafts. Not large, but well worth a look plus you have the opportunity to visit the Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, former Naval Hospital and the shops and restaurants which line the streets and river front.

Another aspect of Greenwich is the wonderful architecture which is hidden in the back streets. As with Columbia Road previously, you can get a real sense of the old London by taking a walk off the beaten track.

Greenwich

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London Markets – Part 1

While Lauren was with me in Sydney she had dragged me, reluctantly at first, round a number of the varied markets the city had to offer. By doing that not only had she forced me to learn to enjoy wandering around the stalls but she had also introduced me to such locations as Surry Hills and Paddington, which otherwise I wouldn’t have seen.

Now back home we have decided to make an effort to see more of our own capital city and amongst the many other attractions it has to offer are it’s very own street markets.

London is only about 40 minutes drive or tube ride from home. No time at all and a whole new world to explore and discover.

I have always considered myself to be somebody who knows London having spent time here all my life, but trips like today’s just go to prove I know so little.

Today is about the East End; Columbia Road, Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane; assuming we have the time.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road

This was our first stop of the day and by far the most enjoyable – not because there was anything wrong with the rest of the markets, but because in the summer sun Columbia Road is magnificent! We also spent so much time here there wasn’t really enough left to do the others justice.

The area of Columbia Road which hosts the market was lined down both sides of the street with stalls, each stall being completely full of cut-flowers and plants. Everything you need to make the perfect garden either outside or inside your house. Between the stalls was packed with people looking and buying. In addition to the market stalls is a whole range of shops from vintage clothing to cards, as well as cafes, pubs and other eating houses.

Although crazy busy the atmosphere was wonderful. Buskers were playing music and the staff holders were shouting out their traditional patter:

“Never mind Poundland, you’ll be in Wonderland with these prices!” 

“Your neighbours already think you’re rich, they will be convinced when you plant these in your garden!”

This is what makes a London market for me; the patter coupled with the strong east end accent, perfect. I almost expected Del Boy Trotter to be selling out of his suitcase on one of the street corners.

Columbia Road Flower Market is open every Sunday between 08:00 and 15:00. Make the effort, it is well worth it!

2014-06-08 12.26.37Between Columbia Road and Brick Lane there was just time to spot this rather neglected light weight series land rover.

Brick LaneSpitalfields and Petticoat Lane

From Columbia Road we headed to Brick Lane. On a Sunday the streets are full of all manner of goods from second hand bric-a-brac to new clothes, crafts and household goods. This is considered to be the last of the “unlicensed” markets in London so many of the stalls are no more than a selection of items which somebody just wants to get ride of. They turn up with their wares and simply lay claim to part of the pavement!

Brick Lane

There is also the food; street food, stalls, restaurants, every type from every nation. Brick Lane deserves far more time that we had today, so we will be returning.

2014-06-08 13.59.17Next we went to Spitalfields. This couldn’t be more different from the previous two. This is the original covered market site with the traditional fruit and vegetable market having moved to Leyton, East London. The building has been fully renovated and forms the centre piece of the redevelopment of this part of the city.

Everything in this market is structured and formal. There are also a large selection of permanent shops and restaurants which makes the “market” feel more of a shopping centre. That said there are some real quality goods on sales.

Finally we took a quick walk through Petticoat Lane, and it was quick as it was getting late and we were very hot. This market is all about clothes and is back to the traditional format of stalls down the streets.

Well that was our first London Market expedition. There is said to be over 70 markets to visit so more trips are already being planned as well as a revisit to those seen today.

But before I close, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there is much of London I haven’t seen before. Today I have seen streets and buildings, many dating from the 1860’s, that are of a design and period of history which I find most appealing. Another topic for future posts …..

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