Shadwell: School, Street Art, Studios and Railway Bridges, a set on Flickr.
As part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, I’m currently posting five sets of photos of a journey I made on a hot, sunny day in July, when I travelled from my home in Brockley, south east London, through New Cross and Bermondsey to the River Thames, and then across Tower Bridge and up to Commercial Road, one of the great arteries of east London, built to service London’s docks two hundred years ago.
Located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Commercial Road, which runs for two miles, passes through four areas within Tower Hamlets — Whitechapel, Shadwell, Limehouse and Stepney — where poverty is still prevalent, despite the encroaching gentrification, and these contrasts are reflected in the architecture — some old and decaying, some old and restored, and some with the gleaming new arrogance of London’s currently unfettered developers.
The last set I posted consisted of photos taken on and around the western end of Commercial Road, populated by small businesses, mostly in the garment trade, and in this set I allowed myself to be diverted down some of the side streets further east, between Commercial Road and Cable Street, in Shadwell, where, as the title of this set indicates, I stumbled upon an architecturally stimulating school, some street art in a group of abandoned railway arches, the vast ramshackle Victorian warehouse complex housing Cable Street Studios, and a number of lovely Victorian railway bridges.
This was my first visit to this part of London in any depth, and I found it fascinating. I have since returned on several occasions, and am beginning to understand how Commercial Road fits within east London generally, and how east London has a deep history of poverty and immigration that pockets of gentrification cannot erase, however much the current government is intent on forcing poor people out of London completely, to create more playgrounds for foreign investors, and more soulless modern developments for aspiring individuals and couples working in the City or Canary Wharf.
My heart, as regular readers will understand, is in the back streets, or on quirky parts of the main roads, where the buildings hold stories, and where there are hidden corners and shadows that the napalm of gentrification has not been able to wipe out. I am fascinated by the fabric of the city — and am frequently drawn to the creations of contemporary architects, which often demonstrate innovation in form and material — but far too much of it is cold and clinical, and also socially divisive, or even socially destructive, and I will continue to seek out and photograph places that have depth and soul.
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.
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