Commercial Road: The 21st Century Rag Trade, a set on Flickr.
As part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, this is the second of five photo sets that I’m belatedly publishing, many months after they were taken, which capture a journey that I took, on a particularly hot and sunny Tuesday in July, just before the Olympics madness took off.
The first set focused on the start of my journey, through New Cross and Bermondsey, south of the River Thames, and after crossing Tower Bridge, this second set features my journey to Commercial Road, and then east along that great artery of east London.
Very straight, almost like a Roman road, Commercial Road runs for two miles east from Aldgate East to to the junction with Burdett Road in Limehouse, where it becomes the East India Dock Road. Despite its appearance, it was actually built by the East India Company in the early 19th century as a major artery when London’s Docklands were being developed, and resumed that role after the development of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs under Margaret Thatcher, which, ironically, really took off under Tony Blair.
Although there are pockets of modern development and gentrification, it consists primarily of small businesses surrounded by council housing (mainly wholesale clothes manufacturers and import/export businesses, at its eastern end), with a significant Asian population, and is both lively and time-weathered, although a major drawback is the constant traffic.
This set deals mostly with the shops that are packed in densely at Commercial Road’s eastern end (and various sights from the streets I took to get there), while the two sets to follow focus on the more diffuse attractions further east, as the shops thin out — as well as photos from some diversions down side streets, heading south towards Cable Street. A final set from this journey provides a surreal juxtaposition, as, where Commercial Road becomes East India Road, I peeled off down West India Dock Road to Canary Wharf — to buy a spare battery for my camera, as I had exhausted it by that point — where I was confronted by Canary Wharf’s clinically clean and self-contained mall experience, which provided a marked contrast to the grittiness of Commercial Road.
The next day, I headed out to Whitechapel Road and Mile End Road, much happier with grit than with greed, but that’s another story. For now, I hope you enjoy exploring Commercial Road with 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, Naomi Moo Fountain wrote:
all of London? Blimey, that’s a lot of pics!
You ain’t seen nothing yet! Tentatively, the project runs until the shower of idiots and sadists claiming to run the country is booted out in 2015. That should give me time to fully chronicle the fabric of my beloved city – beloved, despite being infected by monstrous greed and politically motivated austerity – by visiting and photographing all 32 boroughs, plus the City of London. Over 1,000 photos published so far, and 5,000 still to publish, and more being added almost on a daily basis!
Jennah Solace wrote:
Wow Andy, that’s quite an ambitious project. I am loving all the photos – and missing London too. Arch 46 is my favorite of this lot, I love the light steaming down. You are capturing many treasures. Ironically, the grungier and more run down – the more I’m captured by the image. The fancy, flashy images seem so plastic and unreal. It’s as though we wish to create a reality that is purely false and fabricated and has no substance. Which seems totally contrary to the nature we were created to exist along side – know what I mean?
I know exactly what you mean. And your analysis is taking us into the disturbing psyche of the new rich, or those with aspirations to be so. People with no depth, no context, no past, no future, selfish people with no concern for others, and no acceptance of mortality. See them working out in their glass-fronted gyms, like peacocks and hens, and be aware that they think, in their cocooned minds, that they’ll live forever.
This general derangement is extraordinary – something that, in times past, would only have been available to a few very rich, powerful and deluded people, whereas now it’s everywhere.
On Facebook, when I posted the photo “Arch 46,” I wrote:
From my latest photo set, here’s my favourite photo – a single stream of light shining onto the road in front of a grungy arch by a tunnel under a railway bridge in east London, not far from Tower Bridge. Turn away if you like your cities clean and disinfected, with gated communities of glass and steel for those who like to pretend that there is no much thing as community, and that they have conquered mortality. Give me the shadows, the dirt, the lost places anyday.
Jacqueline Gemini Honeybee wrote:
Well said! x
David J. Clarke wrote:
Thanks Andy. Enjoyed the virtual holiday once more and the link for Horselydown. The rich layering of time, place and peoples is incredible. And while £425 for a modern two bedroom flat is better than many here in Victoria BC I cannot help feeling that what we are witnessing as the developers create more lebensraum for the rich while expediting plans for the expulsion of the working poor is in some ways the end of history. The future is looking as dystopian as anything Philip K. Dick could invent.
Thanks, Jacqueline and David. Your comments reflect how I see what’s happening, David, and I see it all the time cycling around London – the new unaffordable apartments with their ludicrous branding for the aspirational drones who aren’t asking enough questions, and the replacement of social housing with its privatised alternative, which will prove unaffordable for large numbers of people, who will have to leave London or move to distant undesirable suburbs.
While I find this deeply troubling, what is most immediately worrying is the extent to which plans are being made to move the unemployed in London and – crucially – lower-paid workers who simply don’t make enough money to survive unaided (because minimum wage is a joke, and so many people are working part-time minimum wage jobs) out of London altogether, and in the near future. Will other towns rebel? I haven’t heard much yet …
Remmic Lewis wrote:
Beautiful. Bless you.
It’s a war, Remmic. We’re up against people who have lost their ability to identify with other people – from full-blown psychopaths and sociopaths (many in positions of power), down to the people we see, sit next to, perhaps work with every day, people in their own bubble of perceived entitlement, people who don’t perhaps even see how uncaring they are – or how uncaring they have become.
Remmic Lewis wrote:
Thought you might, Remmic!
Neil Mckenna wrote:
Very much like the sentiment of this post, Andy.
Thanks, Neil. I am increasingly aware of the need for those of us who still value things in life beyond money and selfishness to come together to create a viable opposition to these dark forces, whose damaging emptiness is unfortunately so mainstream that it is largely unseen and unrecognised.
acqueline Gemini Honeybee wrote:
The edge places are where the magic and the potential is and yet, instead of being genuinely made nurturing places for people to live in, they are all being sanitised and turned into theme parks so that the rich can feel ‘edgy’. Awful!
Jacqueline, yes. The imbalance is so disproportionate that, on the one hand, London is a playground for those with wealth (or wealthy parents), while everyone else is literally being squeezed out. This type of social cleansing has never happened before on this scale. Margaret Thatcher tried it, in a small way, with Thamesmead, and there were various cleansing projects in Tory Wandsworth and Shirley Porter’s Westminster, but this is a huge project, one that involves all the major parties and permeates almost every borough (if not literally every borough), because the expulsion of those who are not rich is now pretty much the official way of thinking for the aspirational middle classes, and the voracious appetites – and the sense of entitlement – of those with money (mostly ill-gotten, through fleecing others) has never been so out of control. I would despair if I wasn’t so incandescent with rage, a rage that I am permanently trying to manage. The complacency, the smugness, the self-obsession, is truly horrific.
Fiona Branson wrote:
i love that arch too
Thanks, Fiona. Arch lovers unite!
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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