diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 11, 2019

London has one street named Europe.

It's in Woolwich.

It's 100 metres long, with just five houses and flanked by two enormous blocks of flats.

It may look grim, but it's actually incredibly historic.

This is the Woolwich Dockyard estate, on the waterfront to the west of the town centre, and the very antithesis of the Woolwich Arsenal estate to the east. That's private, desirable and well-connected. This is council, down-at-heel and cut off.

Construction commenced in 1974, the lead architect being Elsie Sargent, with Norman & Dawbarn as consulting engineers. Pedestrian access is still through a grimy subway from the far side of Woolwich Church Street, rather than down any more convenient flight of adjacent steps.

Most of the western side of Europe Road is taken up by St Domingo House, a twelve-storey block of flats, most especially its bin store and an access ramp. Of more relevance is nine-storey Sovereign House to the east, because its postal address is officially Europe Road SE18.

A lofty security camera watches over all.

Closer to the river the maisonette blocks begin, most of which are technically on Resolution Walk. Only five front doors face Europe Road, each property gifted a small front garden behind a low wooden fence. The majority now have a satellite dish. Number 4 has gone to the effort of a tiled address.

I passed only one local resident out and about, and he was a shaven headed man leading a Staffordshire bull terrier on a long lead. It would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from a single random interaction. Equally, it might be wrong to draw too few.

Europe Road's most intriguing landscape feature is the dry dock at the far end - one of two, and best seen from the Thames Path. Today both are sealed off and in decay, but in 1979 these formed the South-East London Aquatic Centre, a hub for canoeing, diving, and fishing.

Both graving docks date back to the 1840s when they were part of the Woolwich Naval Dockyard, a nationally significant facility which once covered this entire waterfront zone. We're very close to the spot where it all kicked off in 1512 when work began on the Great Harry, the largest warship of its day.

Europe Road thus marks the heart of centuries of maritime tradition. It's where Henry VIII planned his assault on the continent. It's the backbone of Empire broken by globalisation. It's a residential backwater mired in austerity. It tells us everything and nothing about the state of Britain in Europe today.

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