Development and Decay: Photos of Commercial Road in Stepney and Limehouse


The Troxy, an Art Deco triumphThe Brewery TapLavender HouseThe warrior guardianEast End terraceCash for scrap
Boarded upThe lost fishmongersTextures and coloursBlisteredTony & Sue'sCallegari's Restaurant
Callegari's close-upYorkshire RoadDepartureLowell Street flatsOur LadyClosed: The Limehouse Library
Apartments by the canalLimehouse Cut looking towards Limehouse BasinLimehouse Cut looking towards Bromley-by-BowLimehouse Town Hall"Crap your not Banksey!"Olympics missiles

Development and Decay: Commercial Road in Stepney and Limehouse, a set on Flickr.

As part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, this is the 59th photo set I have posted, and the last of three photo sets recording a journey I made along Commercial Road, in the East End, one hot and sunny day in July (see here and here). It was something of a revelation to me, as, although I know parts of the East End, I was largely unfamiliar with this area, and cycling the whole of the road from Aldgate to the junction near Canary Wharf, as well as making diversions into the back streets, helped bring to life this vibrant and historically fascinating part of town that I have since revisited on several occasions.

This whole part of the city — rather frayed around the edges, and with an uneasy mix of wealth and poverty, featuring the white working class and Asian immigrants on the one hand, and bankers on the other — is primarily subject to drastic changes because of its proximity to the City and Canary Wharf, and is, in a very real sense, up against the full force of international money, with developers intent on exploiting any land they can get their hands on to build new housing aimed at foreign investors — a bubble of exploitation, with investors charged too much for properties that they, in turn, sell or rent for too much to London residents.

This, of course, is a familiar story across the whole of London, but the nearer you get to the epicentres of the international banking mafia (the City and Canary Wharf), the more problematical it becomes for local people, and for anyone who isn’t earning well in excess of the average UK income — around £26,000 a year. Those on the median income — around £14,000 a year — or amongst the 50 percent of the working population who earn less than £14,000 a year are even more disadvantaged, and may well find themselves priced out of London altogether, unless this artificially inflated bubble is somehow brought to an end.

I hope you enjoy this, the penultimate set of photos from that particular sunny day in summer, with the derelict buildings I encountered, the new housing developments, the ailing Victorian heritage (especially the Limehouse Library), and the glimpses of the wonderful Limehouse Cut, the canal that is regularly on my mind since I first visited it in summer.

Ironically, as my journey came to an end, the battery in my camera ran out, and the only place I could think of to buy a new one, so that I could carry on taking photographs without having to go home and recharge the existing battery, was Canary Wharf. Photos of that surreal shopping expedition will be along soon, but for now, come with me on a journey along the western end of Commercial Road — in Shadwell, Stepney and Limehouse.

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.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Sam Skinner nice photos but blue skies?!!! london at best or worst?!!!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I remember those vivid blue skies, Sam, when it was hot and sunny in summer. Not all the time, but more often than some people might remember. There’s nothing like being out on a bike every day to sharpen one’s appreciation of the weather! I love the heat and the sun and the blue skies, and I especially like thinking of them on a day like today, when it’s tippling it down, and almost dark at 2 pm.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher John Webster wrote:

    great set Andy, loved the cracked paint, not Banksy and milkcrate missiles..

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, fair enough, Chris. I thought they were kind of funny, and part of London’s rich tapestry blah blah, but they’re obviously not to everyone’s tastes. I’m glad you liked the cracked paint photos, though. They were particularly satisfying. More depth in a few square feet of broken building than in acres of new builds. That says something. I think there’s a very fundamental psychological divide between those who see poetry and truth in dirt and decay and those obsessed with the new and the clean. The latter, I find, also tend to be obsessed with status and wealth!

  5. damo says...

    i was in shoreditch last week i lived in hackney for 15 years when nobody wanted hackney it was called crackney then i still have friends there but every time i go its changeing weekly it seems there are now little only little islands of locals left amid a sea of rich hipsters trying to be cool and urban and repulsive bankers both as naff as each other and overflowing with shit attitude,like they own the place …ooops sorry they do,lol

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    I took the Overground up to Dalston Junction yesterday, Damo, and saw exactly what you mean. Actually I thought there was a lot of poverty – much more poverty than wealth! – but it was also clear that the moneyed people were there, and steadily infiltrating. To be honest, all I’m seeing now are two very clearly delineated worlds, of those with money and those without, for whom life is getting harder and harder. This winter is going to be a living hell for a lot of people.

  7. damo says...

    the rich hipster brats swan around certain parts of dalston only they would be beat and robbed if the ventured on to the estates its a game for them andy its the pete dockerty game pretend your poor and stuggling and if the shit realy hits the fan mummy and daddy will come and whisk you of back to the safety of the home countys ….lucky them for the rest of us we just have to get on with it there is no other chouise to survive we do wot we have to do leagal or otherwise,lol

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Some of them are playing, Damo, others have got well-paid jobs and stand on their own two feet. The problem is, where are the jobs for the majority of the people who aren’t so fortunate or well-connected? Nowhere. Just minimum wage jobs – full-time if you’re “lucky,” part-time if not – for graduates as well as school-leavers, and only if you’re somewhere that all the jobs haven’t already been axed. A generation lost, abandoned by government, and far too few people care. Selfishness is everywhere, as though it was a functioning philosophy, and not just a miserable abdication of people’s social responsibility – to say nothing of their lost humanity!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Christopher John Webster wrote, in response to 4, above:

    that’s interesting, for me decay is beautiful representation of a universal truth about what happens to all things… I like to see that around as a reminder of our mortality, those new build shrines to the clean and ordered world smack of a kind of denial….

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, I like that explanation, Chris. Excellent.

  11. Damo says...

    The trouble is Andy there are no jobs for the majority of people who are not well .connected as we all know that past governments both left and right in this country have privatised and sold of every kind of industry leaving very little employment for people I love how clueless Cameron and giddion are thinking that the private sector would conjure up millions of jobs,lol from where,lol but then thatcher though get rid sell of all the manufacturing and the banking sector will provide for al,lol,lol how dum were they,lol

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Dumb then and dumber now, Damo. The last thing we needed after the 2008 crash was these clowns, with their pre-doomed plans to revive the economy. It felt from the beginning that too few people knew that austerity was both an ideologically motivated plan to destroy the state, and also that it wouldn’t work economically, as austerity in a recession only causes more economic misery, in what the sensible economist Danny Blanchflower – one of only a handful of sensible economists – has described as a death spiral. Since then, some people have woken up, but still too few. I sometimes get tired of waiting for the rediscovery of consciousness, for the rediscovery of class consciousness …

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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