Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
er. As early as the 1730s, overcrowding had become a characteristic of the East End, a
process accelerated in the early nineteenth century by the building of the docks between
1800 and 1830, the demand for unskilled labour, and the arrival of Jews and other refugees
from Eastern Europe. These three churches were built as necessities, but there is nothing
utilitarian about them. Their originality continues to surprise us. Hawksmoor's architec-
ture, imbued with Baroque rhythms, is yet massive and solid, like Johnson's prose. Char-
acteristic of how little we really value them is the fact that, at the time of writing, Christ
Church, Spitalfields, is under threat of demolition, though thousands of pounds are use-
lessly thrown away in every conceivable direction.
A short walk from Limehouse Church brings us to the river. As the Thames seems to
appear in every book on London, my references to it will be few, except when we go to
Rotherhithe on the opposite side. But there is no gainsaying the magic of the river de-
scribed in prose and in paint by Whistler. The Thames, besides being the chief commercial
highway of London and the foundation of its importance, is also the tongue of London, by
which the city breathes. Air travels on water, and twice each day the river brings in fresh
air from Southend, whence goes back the stale air pulled by the ebb tides. Although the
river is still picturesque - beautiful, even, at dusk, when the warehouses become tinged
with blue and mysterious industrial exhalations form over the river - the Thames must
have been glorious in the mid-Victorian period. In those days, as I have seen in old pho-
tographs, the Limehouse shore was a place of curious houses and boat-builders' yards,
and sailing ships and masts made a sort of petrified forest. A bit of this old property still
remains. There are remnants of good houses off the Commercial Road, a bay-windowed
one near Limehouse Church and some few dating from the eighteenth century on the edge
of the river, adjoining the Bunch of Grapes. Most of the remaining riverside pubs have
been remodelled out of recognition, but the Bunch of Grapes still has its cosy back and a
verandah from which customers can watch the ships that pass in the night. Dickens knew
the pub. He rechristened it 'The Six Jolly Fellowship Porters' in Our Mutual Friend , and
something of the old romance remains.
Poplar, easily reached from Limehouse, has lost much of its interest. It was a small vil-
lage up to the building of the East and West India Docks; the Great Eastern , a white ele-
phant among ships, was built here. Architecturally, Poplar has a rather low rating. There
are the developments in Cubitt Town by Cubitts' great and still flourishing firm who were
so active at the opposite side of London in Belgravia. Cubitts were pioneers in the ration-
alisation of building construction, and in various projects such as the rebuilding of Barings
Bank, carried out their contracts with a speed and efficiency that still astonishes.
The Queen's Music Hall was demolished in 1964. Here variety 'artistes' could be as-
sured of lively, if critical, patronage. An evening spent there was worth the journey, if only
for the audience, which was distinctly Hogarthian. Most of the music-halls had an official
Search WWH ::

Custom Search