Adventures in History: The Mile End Road, a set on Flickr.
This is the 79th photo set in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, which I began last May. I currently have around 8,000 photos to publish, to add to the 1,500 or so I have already published, so it would be fair to say that it’s a project that is slightly out of control, in which it has proven far easier to get out and about taking photos, than it is to upload them.
Part of this is because I insist on spending time researching the places I photograph, so that my record of London is not just photographic, but a text-based historical record as well. However, it is also because, from the beginning of the project, I have been responding to the long years I spent indoors, writing on a daily basis about Guantánamo, followed by my illness two years ago, with an insatiable desire to be outdoors, on a bike, as much as possible.
I am still engaged in trying to secure the closure of Guantánamo, of course, and also in resisting the malevolent austerity programme of the Tory-led government here in the UK (particularly, at present, as it affects the NHS), but I have discovered, over the last nine months, that nothing is better for my well-being than to spend many hours a day outdoors, cycling, whether bathed in sunlight or lashed by the rain, as I seek out the forgotten and neglected corners of London.
This set — the first of three that I will be publishing over the next week or so — both precedes and follows on from a set I published last July, entitled, “The Olympics Minus One Day: Photos from the Frontline in Stratford” (and see here too), in which I took the Overground from my home in Brockley, in south east London, to Whitechapel (on the last day before non-folding bikes were banned for the duration of the Olympics and the Paralympics, even though the trains were generally empty), and then cycled east along Mile End Road (the A11), until it becomes Bow Road and crosses the A12 on the way to the Olympic Park. In the Olympics set I published in July, I then cycled up to Leyton, along the A12 at the north of the Olympic Park, and then back south via Hackney Wick, Old Ford, Poplar and the Isle of Dogs, stopping in on Greenwich before returning home to Brockley.
I’m rather amazed to discover that this whole trip only took six hours, as it felt rather more epic than that, and I managed to cover so much ground. This first set covers the first part of the journey, from Whitechapel station, past various historical landmarks on the way to Queen Mary, University of London and the Regent’s Canal. At that point, the E1 postcode gives way to E3, and Mile End turns into Bow, and then becomes E15, and Stratford, at the junction with the A12. This section is covered in the second photo set, and the third and final set largely picks up where the Olympic set left off (with the exception of a few photos taken in Leyton), where Hackney Wick turns into Old Ford, and then traces my journey south.
I was mainly inspired to undertake this journey because I wanted to make a journey around the perimeter of the Olymic Park before the madness of the Games began, the day after — and because, when the Games began, I was off to the WOMAD world music festival for five days — but it was also because, just three days before, I had spent a wonderful day exploring Commercial Road, which runs to the south of Mile End Road (see here, here and here), and had been absolutely captivated by the East End, and its working class history, its more recent immigration, its decay, and – in certain pockets – its gentrification, as bankers and speculators continue to make London a global centre for property investment, and a playground for young professional couples in well-paid jobs, all the while squeezing everyone else so that, increasingly, working people won’t actually be able to afford to live in London.
This sorry tale of bloated greed, artificially sustained despite the global economic crash of 2008 that was caused by these same bankers and speculators, remains a cancer eating away at the every soul of London, although I’m pleased to report that it didn’t dominate my journey from Whitechapel to Stratford and back home via the Isle of Dogs on July 25 last year, when the joy of summer was at its most generous, and, to be honest, I was more preoccupied by the eye-wateringly extravagant indulgence of the Olympics than by any other socio-economic considerations.
I hope you enjoy the photos, and I’ll be back soon with the journey from Mile End to Stratford.
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, Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
Thanks Andy, great photos, special thanks for the historical comments. I read and wonder, many houses were built in London in the years 1700-1800, as could be preserved to the present day brick?
Thanks, Aleksey. Great to hear from you, my friend. I’m just wondering, were you asking about how the bricks have lasted so long?
Christopher John Webster wrote:
Great set Andy… makes me long for summer cycling.
Chris, yes, it makes me long for summer cycling too. I’ve been out quite a lot the past week, but it’s largely been a test of endurance!
Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
These houses are very old, is not it dangerous to live in them? In Volgograd there are houses built in 1834, the bricks in these homes are already not strong. I tried to scratch them, they are easily converted into the sand.
Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
Yes, my question is this, probably pronounced wrong, I’m sorry for my english
No worries about your English, Aleksey! As for the bricks, I would have to say that I think (a) there is, or used to be a good tradition of brick-making in the UK, and (b) old buildings have probably in general been subjected to a lot of care and attention over the centuries. I very much doubt that the houses being built nowadays will last, and I think one of the reasons the aspirational middle classes love Victorian houses so much – apart from because it fulfils some obsessive desire for status – is because those houses have stood the test of time!
Here a famous old London brick! http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyworthington/8264520698/
Aleksey Penskiy wrote:
Andy, the link does not work – Written, that opened in 1870 and closed exactly a hundred years later, in 1970, but at home in London, built much earlier?
The bricks were brought to London from Warwickshire, Aleksey. here was a lot of building- and I mean a lot! – from 1870 onwards. I don’t know about older bricks, but presumably some of the companies involved made rather durable bricks.
And you’re right that the link is broken. I had a quick search and came up with an aerial photo of the factory from 1926: http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/image/epw015047
and a local history report with a great photo from 1958, and some additional information: http://www.nuneatonlocalhistorygroup.org.uk/newlets/Nr.1%20-%202009.pdf
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