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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A Building on George Street

Have you ever wondered why some buildings appear to survive despite the onward march of modernisation all around them.

As buildings seem to get taller, more sophisticated, complicated and futuristic; there are those that stand the test of time and survive. Seeming to resist the planners and the bulldozers simply standing their ground and almost defying logic. Of course there are those iconic buildings in every city which will survive forever. They have the protection of both the state and history, but there are also those buildings for which there is no obvious reason for their survival; at least from an outsiders view.

There is one such building on George Street.

I saw it one day while out for a walk. A fairly nondescript stone building, very simply in design. About five storeys tall with large two storey windows at ground level and more simple rectangular, single storey windows on the upper three floors. The only noticeable feature was the entrance. Built into the corner, it was secured by two 12 foot high wooden doors which look as old as they did strong. Brass studs have been punched in to them in an attempt to add decoration, but succeed  in simply making them look more fortress like. Above the doors was a simple, but decorative, wrought iron and glass fan light affording a very brief glimpse into the interior beyond. There were no names or signs of any kind, not even any obvious way a visitor might announce their arrival and seek admission. Nothing. Just a building.

I probably wouldn’t have thought any more about the building on George Street if it wasn’t for something which happened a few days later. I had popped into the “Fortune of War” for a quick drink and sandwich on my way home. It was one of those days when I’d enjoyed a reasonable lunch and simply needed something to get me through to breakfast. It was quiet in the pub so I sat at a table in the corner and took advantage of the WiFi service to catch up on the days news. A few people came and went, some I knew to nod a greeting to, many that I had not seen in the bar before. As I got up to leave a small photograph on the wall behind me caught my eye. It was of the building on George Street. The building itself was clearly recognisable but its surroundings had completely changed. When the picture had been taken the building was by far the most significant in the district. Where generally the other buildings around were of single storey wooden construction it stood tall and solid against the world.

As I stood looking at the picture a regular in the “Fortune of War” by the name of Jack came over and asked if I was interested in the building. I just answered that I had seen it on George Street a few days before and was surprised that it had not simply been brushed away by the march of time and developers greed.

“That building will be there forever,” was Jack’s reply. “It holds a secret which will protect it.”

Having a fascination for history and stories from the past I bought us both another drink and persuaded Jack to tell me the story.

Long before the city was even a settlement there was a man by the name of Paley who had settled his family on a fertile and sheltered piece of land between the river and harbour. He worked hard and with the help of his three sons made a reasonable success of his farm. However, during one particularly hot and dry summer things began to go wrong for Paley. The river on which they relied for fresh water began to dry up. Although it had been free flowing for years it was reduced to little more than a trickle with insufficient supply to keep the family and their animals alive. It was decided that two of the sons should travel up stream and see if there was any reason for the restriction in flow, while Paley and his youngest son would try to dig a well. It was just possible that the water had simply found an easier route to the sea below the surface and as such a small pit may be all they needed.

Over the course of the next week they dug. It seemed impossible that they found nothing. The ground was solid and dry. Not so hard that it couldn’t be broken through, but solid enough that the sides of the shaft supported themselves with no movement whatsoever. At the end of the fourth day, as the two men were clearing out the last of the days debris, a small crack appeared in the floor of the shaft. It was not possible to see anything below or to gauge how deep the crack may be. Too tired to worry about it they climbed out of the hole for the night.

When they climbed down in the morning things were very different. It appeared that during the night the crack had grown and the floor of the shaft had completely given way opening up into a huge cavern. They lowered a rope and climbed down. Immediately on reaching the cavern floor it was obvious that they had found water. A fast flowing stream passed out of one wall, across the floor and disappeared into another. A simple pump and decent length of pipe would be enough to raised the water to the surface. What wasn’t so immediately clear was what else they had uncovered.

During the rest of the day they set up the pump and the pipes. By evening they had water at the surface and were able to ensure that all the animals had enough to drink for the first time in weeks.

For reasons which were not entirely clear to him at the time, Paley decided that he wasn’t going to tell his older sons about the cavern, so he set up a simple pipe diversion which would leave them believing that only a small well had been dug.

Paley visited the cavern on a number of occasions as he found it a mysterious and mystifying place. It was during one such visit that he found what was to change his life forever. It was simply a slight glint noticed out of the corner of his eye that took him to investigate a particular corner of the vast space. He shone his light around but saw nothing. However as he moved it again the light flickered on something which caught his attention again. This time looking closer and brushing away some of the dust… Paley felt like his heart had stopped and then it was beating alarmingly fast! He looked closer still and was then sure of what he had found – a diamond. He cleared round the stone and in doing so found another, then another. Within the space of about 10 minutes Paley had recovered eleven diamonds ranging in size from very small to the largest being about the same size as his little finger nail.

A few days later, using the excuse of needing to buy some essential supplies, Paley set of for town. But he didn’t going to the local town where he was very well known, we went far further a field. It was important to him that nobody knew about his possible good fortune as it was his intention not to change his life, but simply to secure it, and to provide his family with security for as long as possible.

And so started a life long deception. Paley used the diamonds in his cavern very carefully. They were sold in very small and infrequent numbers in order to avoid suspicion. The money was stored away and only used to support his family, adding to the income from the farm. As time went by savings were accumulated from the workings of the farm, as everybody thought, which allowed the family to first buy a small shop in the nearest town. Then they opened one nearer their farm. A small hotel and saloon came next, again very near their farm. Small packets of land were sold around the hotel and shop leading to the growth of a new settlement.

It was as the town slowly took shape that George Street was first marked out, little more than a mud track it was named after the towns mayor at the time; Oswald George. Such was Paley’s extreme care that nobody had any idea that he was responsible for the very existence of the town.

Over the years a number of buildings had been put up over the entrance to the cavern. Initially very simply shelters, they grew into a more solid barn, then a workshop and finally a house. But as the town grew and George Street got busier, Paley decided to move his family out of the town and it was then that the current building was constructed. It was a very difficult process for Paley as he had to ensure that the building would be strong and solid, it was his intention that it would last forever, but it also had to be built over the cavern without anybody knowing of its existence.

Finally complete the building on George Street became the head quarters of Paley’s expanding businesses. Although he was a very wealthy man by now the diamonds had only ever been used to support his development. Had he chosen he could have been an instant millionaire, but that wasn’t the man he was. It was important to him that his sons became the men they should be and that, with care, his family would live in comfort for ever.

It was only as Paley neared the end of his life that he shared his secret with his youngest son, who swore that he would manage the secret in the same way as his father. And so it is to this day.

Only one person ever really knows the secret of the building on George Street.

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“Beware dear reader, for this post is simply the product of my imagination.

But I do hope you enjoyed reading it!”

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