diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 05, 2015

A walk around the edge of Tower Hamlets
Bow Creek → Blackwall
(1½ miles) [25 photos]

Having kicked off my circumnavigation of Tower Hamlets by following the Lea south, today I'm manoeuvring around the contorted peninsulas at the mouth of Bow Creek. [map]

The final meander on the River Lea is a natural wonder, twisting and turning back on itself (twice) before exiting into the Thames immediately opposite the Millennium Dome. The bends create two thin tongues of land, interlocking like thumbs and forefingers, with land access from completely opposite ends. The westernmost peninsula is in Newham, and is home to the Bow Creek Ecology Park. There's just room for the DLR to pass through the middle of the reserve on a lofty viaduct, with reedy watery pools to either side, and a series of benches that once had views before the surrounding vegetation grew too high. And the eastern peninsula, somewhat counter-intuitively, is in Tower Hamlets.

It's always been a dead end, this strip of creekbound land, and human activity took some time to move in. The northern tip was once called Goodluck Hope, a marshy and rural spot, while a little further south (presumably by some fruit trees) lay the single dwelling of Orchard House. The estate was sold to the East India Dock Company precisely 200 years ago, after which time timber merchants, cooperages, shipbuilders, shipbreakers and a whale blubber factory were established on the peninsula. The largest plate glass factory in southern England was established at the far end, and a small inward-looking community built up, propped up by a pub called The Crown. Their slums are long gone, but even ten years ago Pura Foods were still piping vegetable oil from a refinery on the shore.

How places change. Next year the London City Island development opens up, described as a "Mini-Manhattan" by its developers, and "a bunch of primary coloured investment towers" by me. 1700 flats will be crammed in for the benefit of foreign investors, and the English National Ballet are taking up residence to give the place artistic credibility. For those of us who'll never be able to live there, the estate offers one great bonus which is a new way into Tower Hamlets. A red (raisable) bridge has been installed across the last bend in the creek, and a bespoke mothballed exit from Canning Town station awaits the official opening. (Report: 2013)

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Lower Lea Crossing, Crossrail (to Custom House)

My walk around Tower Hamlets is half a mile shorter while Leamouth's inland isthmus remains sealed off for building works. Instead I get to walk past the council's main transport depot (all gritters and minibuses), follow a slip road underneath a giant red advertising hoarding and head beneath the concrete pillars of the Lower Lea Crossing. Orchard House used to be around here, where the hastily imported planters bloom, and a taxi repurposed as art sits on a cobbled traffic island with a sparkly tree emerging from its roof. And what I should do here is pass through the gates into the East India Dock Basin, but instead I'm going to break the rules of my walk for the first time and head down the cul-de-sac of Orchard Place.

This backwater street has been here for some time, lined by the decaying leftovers of wharves and shipbuilding yards. Thankfully historians and artists have been out to liven it up, with a large painted buoy at one end, a flimsy-looking bream hanging part-way down, and numerous heritage panels all the way down. The latter are truly excellent, and you can read much of the information contained within on this mini-website. This post-industrial remnant is the East End's most remote corner, and as far from trendy Shoreditch as Tower Hamlets gets. And at the far end is Trinity Buoy Wharf, which you must visit.

Established at the start of the 19th century as a storage space for navigational buoys, Trinity House built London's one and only lighthouse here, used for lighting trials rather than for the avoidance of rocks. It's still here, and at weekends you can step inside and climb an especially narrow staircase to the lantern to stare out across the Thames. The tower is also the auditorium for a 1000-year-long musical composition called Longplayer, designed never to repeat, and playing out from a turn-of-the-century iMac in a case at the back. Alongside is a large display of singing bowls used to play the piece, which runs until New Year's Eve 2999, and can also be heard in perpetuity here.

Longplayer's not the only cultural gizmo on site. Down by the river is a double-ended bell that rings at high tide, and in the corner by the mouth of Bow Creek is the world's first tidal powered moon clock (which looks like a flashy digital speak your weight machine, but is much geekier than that). All of this science is highly appropriate because Michael Faraday used to work on site, testing out electrical apparatus in the lighthouse, and there's a hut with a pebbled floor laid out in his memory down below.

Oh, and lots of people work here. The management company pioneered the concept of a Container City, with workspaces inside brightly-coloured stacked metal boxes. If you ever get the chance to look inside, say for Open House, then do. The latest arrivals are the temporary broadcasting containers from London 2012, now combined to create the Riverside Building (you can rent a studio here for £1150 a month). And all these people need somewhere to eat, so there are two, one the Bow Creek Café, the other Fatboy's Diner, and both open seven days a week. I dropped into Fatboy's for a superthick American milkshake, just as I did at the end of my walk down the Lea in August 2009, and slurped it in the shadow of a lightship. Did I mention that you really ought to visit?

Enough diversion, let's nip back to the East India Docks and continue around the borough. This is a treat in itself, the former entrance basin now filled with shallow water and a seasonal home to migrating birds. As for the remainder of the system they were the first of London's docks to be filled in, and various homes, offices and council headquarters now reside where spice ships once moored. One such site is slightly upriver at Victoria Quay, where a monument commemorates the departure point of the first American settlers in 1606 - one of their captains would later bring back Princess Pocohontas (report: 2006). And here too is one of my favourite Greenwich meridian markers - an avenue of trees between apartment blocks, leading from a mosaic circle by the river.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Blackwall Tunnel

The next stretch of waterside is private and blocked, forcing a diversion inland along Blackwall Way. This area is becoming increasingly dominated by residential skyscrapers, once only the thin slanty Ontario Tower, but more recently the bulbous Providence Tower, unashamedly targeted at rich bankers seeking a luxury lifestyle. I felt completely out of place walking through artificial streets beneath premium balconies, dodging suited property consultants and smug clusters of outdoor yoga. I take comfort from the fact that Tower Hamlets' main Waste Transfer Station is located nextdoor. And with the return to more ordinary housing, at the entrance to Blackwall Basin, the long trek around the Isle of Dogs finally begins.

» today's 25 photos; 214 photographs from the whole walk; slideshow
» Map of the boundary of Tower Hamlets; map of my walk
» step on to section 3 »

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream