Prisons and Abandoned Factories: A Journey from Belmarsh to Plumstead, a set on Flickr.
On July 11, 2012, as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike (or see here), I cycled east from Greenwich, intending to travel to the Thames Barrier, on the border of Charlton and Woolwich, but then carrying on, through Woolwich to Thamesmead, the satellite town originally built in the 1960s, and used as the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s notorious film “A Clockwork Orange,” and back via Belmarsh Prison and Plumstead, before rejoining the Thames Path once more for the journey back west, and home.
I’m posting these photos in four sets, and this is the last of the four, following Chasing Clouds in Greenwich: Photos of a Journey East Along the Thames, Industry and Decay: Photos of a Journey Along the Thames from Greenwich to Woolwich and Lost Glories: Photos of a Thames Journey from Woolwich to Thamesmead (also see here, here and here). In those, I recorded the first stage of the journey, through Greenwich under a brooding, rain-filled sky; the second stage, through New Charlton, past the Thames Barrier and into Woolwich, through industrial estates, and with a diversion to an evocative set of river stairs; and the third, through the housing developments in the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, and then on to Thamesmead.
I hope to make a return visit to Thamesmead soon, as I only had a short amount of time before returning home, which I managed in a fairly haphazard manner, after getting lost and emerging near a giant roundabout on the busy A2016, which runs from Plumstead to Erith. From this road, I discovered that I was close to Belmarsh Prison, the maximum security prison — aka Category A prison — notorious for the detention of alleged terror suspects, held without charge or trial. Next to Belmarsh is a Category B prison, Thameside, built and run by Serco, the private security firm dogged by controversy for its work with asylum seekers and in the health service, as well as its involvement with private prisons, and, across the road from Thameside, a number of derelict factories and warehouses which also attracted my attention.
From these ruins, I swiftly made my way home via Plumstead, rejoining the River Thames near the Woolwich Ferry, and then trying to get home ahead of another storm — an aim that failed when, on Greenwich peninsula, I was soaked to the skin in a huge deluge, and was thankful that my camera case proved to be waterproof.
For the next few photo sets, as well as posting some more photos from my Italian holiday last month, I’ll be posting photos I took north of the river in London — just some of the 1500 or so photos I have still to post from my journeys over the last two months. As ever, I hope you’ll be joining me.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Henry W. Peters wrote:
Nice series Andy.
Thanks, Henry. I’m very glad to hear that you’re enjoying my new project.
Ann Alexander wrote:
Thanks. I’m enjoying your journey too, Andy. From the last set of photos I knew you were reaching Hellmarsh.
I think you know more than me, Ann. When I was in Thamesmead I didn’t know I was going to stumble on Belmarsh. After writing about it for so many years, it was quite a shock, but then prisons always are – they’re such a vivid demonstration of the state’s power to deprive people of their liberty, and they always seem to cater more to vengeance than to the requirements of public safety. All those wasted lives …
Zilma Nunes wrote:
Do you take pictures only the abandoned cities, factories, prisons ?
Martin A Gugino wrote:
Does your camera assign GPS coordinates when you take the picture, or do you map the photos manually?
Jennah Solace wrote:
’The overgrown doorway’ is a beauty! Nature taking over! More long-lost shopping carts, wood piling up — used and abandoned. We are such users in our culture! We suck out what we want – drain the goodness dry – then dump the rest.
Thanks, Zilma, Martin and Jennah. Good to hear from you all. So Zilma, I don’t always take photos of abandoned places, factories and prisons, although I am very obviously drawn to them. One of the things I’m finding is that the derelict, the forgotten and the decaying speak to me and have a depth to them that is completely missing from the shiny new places that are still being built all over London. I’ll be looking more into this in the future, and how this drive for the new is dictated partly by developers, so that they can make a lot of money, but is also part of the way in which people are conditioned to want the shiny and new, rather like impressionable children.
Martin, I have to manually locate the photos on a map, which, I must admit, is a bit time-consuming, and Jennah, I’m so glad you liked “the overgrown doorway.” It was one of my favorites – the composition, the light, the colours, the shadows, and the shopping trolleys (again), and what it says about our culture and what we end up discarding.
Sara Naqwi wrote:
Love how natural the photos are — lacking fancy Photoshop and Instagram filters — and that you took us through a journey. I think you have a great eye for composition. Your appreciation of skies, architecture and history is evident.
Hope to – and would love to! – welcome you in Dubai, and get your perspective on this interesting city.
Thanks, Sara, for the supportive words, and I’m delighted to welcome you on my journeys.
Would also love to visit Dubai one of these days …
Jennah Solace wrote:
I’m listening to your interview Always nice to hear your voice. Yes, decay – decay. If we thought about ourselves as something that would one day decay, would would be as wasteful? (With our own lives, stuff, environment – etc…) The problem more often than not is – we think of ourselves as invincible!
Glad you’re enjoying the interview, Jennah. As for the decay, I think you may be being generous. I suspect that often the attitude goes no further than, “I don’t need this now,” much like when you follow people with boxes of fried chicken from takeaways, who just drop the boxes on the pavement when they’ve finished. Or throw them out of car windows. We have been encouraged to live in selfish bubbles, and our leaders are as infected by this virus as everyone else. Maintaining consciousness requires effort!
Yes, that is true. Everything good and worthwhile takes effort – especially taking care of our environment, which we are doing an awful job at! We are more interested in instant gratification and we aren’t thinking of long term effects on ourselves or others. It takes energy and focus – but we live in a wasteful time – of plastic and packaging. This lifestyle makes life easier in the short-term for our society but it is destructive, clearly, in the long-term.
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: