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  • Writer's pictureAlex Lacey

Walk With Me - Docklands

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

As winter approaches, the air cools. The shadows get longer, the days shorter, and London takes on a different air. In normal years, this is London's quieter season, where the tourists depart, and there is a lull before the streets get busy again on the way in to Christmas.

This year, with the options for entertainment thin on the ground, I have taken to going for some lovely long walks around London, through areas I know well and some I don't, and I have been really relishing a new connection with the city I love.

During two of my walks this week I shared some pictures of things that I found on my stories on Instagram, and everyone really enjoyed them. So in this post, I am bringing you the route and the highlights of my first walk, which took place mostly around the Docklands.

Deptford, where we start our amble, is a pretty historic spot. Home to dockyards, shipbuilding and breaking, including Henry VIII's victualling yard (where boats were stocked up with all the things they needed before departure), it also counts among it one of the most famous London diarists, John Evelyn. He's even lucky enough to have several estates named after him. What a legacy!

Evelyn 200 is a project aiming to plant 200 trees to celebrate the man, and improve air quality in the area. A worthy project.

We continue down through Deptford towards Greenwich, and find some of the loveliest details which are easy to miss

At the side of Rowley House are these railings. Not normally something that would attract the eye, but in this case they are rather special.

The little dent at the ends of the railings tell us that these railings were once stretchers used in WW2. Amazing but true. Railings were removed for the war effort as the metal was needed, and at the end of the war, it cost too much to replace the railings, but there were many stretchers left over, and they were repurposed as railings. More information on these can be found here and here.

A view of Canary A statue to Peter the Great of Russia, who spent time in

Wharf Deptford, living at the home of the aforementioned John

Evelyn as he studied shipbuilding at the nearby dockyard

Under the river and over to the north side, where the view back towards the Royal Naval College is glorious.

This is also the view enjoyed by that lover of watery scenes, Canaletto, as he painted from this point.

The Royal Naval College is utterly gorgeous, and is also home to a whole variety of movies which have been filmed there. I love a bit of spotting of filming when tootling around the area.

Along by the pier for the modern clipper commuter boats is what could be considered the precursor to that very pier. Here, surrounded by green shoots, lie a whole host of enormous wooden struts. A curious little find, which was the launch ramp for the largest ship ever built at the time.

When she was launched, the SS Great Eastern ship held 4000 people and could sail from England to Australia without refuelling. She was so huge that just the chains dwarfed her designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as you can see here to the right.

She was so big that she had to be launched into the Thames sideways rather than front on, as it would have swamped the prow of the ship had that been attempted. The wooden launch ramps used to get this enormous ship into the river are all that remains of this engineering feat, the stress of which it is said drove Isambard Kingdom Brunel to an early grave.

It's classically Victorian - let's face it, the Victorians were never knowingly understated. Gorgeous red brick and columns to spare, this building was originally a Presbyterian church, although now has a somewhat artier vibe to it as it is a theatre space and arts venue.

It even counts Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen among its patrons. More info can be found on it here.

Along the little streets up into Wapping, and I found this curious chap lurking behind some bushes at the side of a building. I rather liked his cheeky little grin, and the implication that should you want to use this door, his friendly face would end up nestling into your palm as you pushed the door open.

Clearly nobody has decided to take that option for a while, as his nose is decorated with some artfully dangling spiders webs. I didn't have the heart to remove them, he looked so happy with his collection!

Onwards to the site of refreshment for some, and the end for others, as we come to the Prospect of Whitby pub. It is one of the older and most picturesque little watering holes in this area, and it hides a gruesome secret at the back. Take the little passageway to the right of the pub, and you end up at the river front. Look left behind the terrace designed for hardy outdoor drinkers, and you have a view of a noose.

Odd sort of thing to see over your pint, a noose, but it reminds us that near here - the exact location of which is hotly disputed - was Execution Dock. The name is a bit of a giveaway, to be honest, as this is where a good many pirates met a sticky end. Hanged by the neck and left to the mercy of 3 tides, the bloated bodies would then be strung up as a warning to other pirates. Seems not to have worked, as many more followed suit!

One of the loveliest things about Wapping is the architecture. I find these warehouses that line the streets oddly atmospheric - I can imagine the rumble and thump of delivery carts and vehicles, the shouts and hollers of the dock workers as they sweated and heaved their heavy burdens into and out of the different buildings.

In particular the winches, now lying dormant against the rough brick, seem to ache with history, remembering the things they have lifted, swung and dispatched, before turning to another load. What I wouldn't give to hear their stories.

The last, and possibly my favourite, of the curiosities in this area is this seemingly innocuous bollard. Why take notice of street furniture so ordinary? Because, like those railings from earlier, this is not quite so ordinary.

This bollard is in fact an old cannon. One of several around London, after battles when cannons were no longer needed, but street furniture for the developing city was indeed required, these cannons were repurposed as bollards.

By stuffing an oversized cannonball in the top of the cannon, painting and then upending it, all of a sudden you have a curious and unique bit of extra history in an area already stuffed with its own stories.

And here we part ways. I leave you in the elegant, well heeled surroundings of Wapping, as I head back to the south of the river. Until next time!

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