In my last entry I described an unexpected walk around the West End. Well, the following day I had a bit of a wander around the East End, for no good reason. And here were the wonders I found…
Limehouse tends to feature in Victorian fiction as a den of vice and mystery. Its status as London’s original Chinatown meant that it was the natural choice of HQ for Sax Rohmer’s incredibly racist Fu Manchu novels. Here’s a spoiler if you’re ever tempted to read those – if a Chinese dude appears in the narrative, he’s evil. These days, Limehouse is frankly a bit depressing. Even Alan Moore was forced to note, “Limehouse – commence the pyro-explosive bombardment.” Admittedly I’m quoting out of context, but he definitely did say it.
I was hoping to photograph some derelict warehouses for a little project of mine, and the one on the left looked just the job (don’t worry, I’m not going to post every photo I took). Upon getting closer, I realised that this was Cable Street – a very notable place in East London’s history. It was here, on 4th October 1936, that people of all ages, faiths, races and political beliefs teamed up to kick the shit out of Oswald Mosley.
Mosley was the head of the British Union of Fascists who, as you might imagine, were not exactly the most racially diverse group. Their marches were protected by the Metropolitan Police and the group was vigorously backed by the Daily Mail. Indeed, the 8th July 1934 front-page headline in the Mail was “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”, a reference to the Union’s uniformed thugs. The Daily Mail also published a number of editorials in favour of Hitler from September 1930 onwards, and even today might best be described as a raci[EDITED FOR IRRELEVANCE]
Sorry. Anyway, the BUF had some powerful support, despite being lampooned by P. G. Wodehouse in the character of Roderick Spode and his Blackshorts. Mosley, being a fuckwit, decided that the most sensible thing to do with his blackshirted thugs would be to march through the heart of the East End. Let me rephrase that: Mosley thought it would be a good idea to send a bunch of far-right degenerates through the most ethnically diverse, most working-class area of London. Let me rephrase it again: incitement to riot.
And yes, that’s exactly what happened. Communists took the lead, infiltrating the fascist ranks and organising the estimated 300,000 who had turned out in the express hope of playing marbles with Oswald Mosley’s testicles. Adopting the slogans “They shall not pass” and “1, 2, 3, 4, 5! We want Mosley dead or alive!”, the protestors stopped the Fascists dead. Despite the best efforts of the mounted police to crack a few skulls, the day was a resounding victory for pretty much everyone who wasn’t a jackass.
The Public Order Act of 1936 was passed as a result, forbidding the wearing of political uniforms in public and making it illegal to organise a march without police consent. Suddenly the two main attractions of the BUF – wearing a pretty uniform and beating people up – were gone, and support dwindled.
Here’s some good footage of the Battle, which actually stretched some way beyond Cable Street: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AQDOjQGZuA
Eventually, my own little march (a protest against the length of Cable Street) brought me to the imposing church of St George in the East.
This church is one of the six legendary churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor which, according to certain conspiracy theories, makes it a hub of occult weirdness. See Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor for more details. The original interior was destroyed by World War II bombing, but fortunately, as you can see, they somehow managed to miss the exterior.
The image wot you do see on your right is the Tobacco Dock. This was a sadly failed attempt to revitalise the area in the 1980s with a wonderful shopping centre. It failed due to the fact that, in short, the area is a dump and no one wanted to shop there. The shops now lie empty and the area is now only really used for special events and filming. The “pirate ships” you see here aren’t authentic and probably aren’t even seaworthy – closer inspection by Yr. Humble Chronicler revealed that the ships are in fact made out of steel. This was impossible before the mid-nineteenth century, as it was feared that a metal hull would interfere with the compass. This ship is a replica of one built in 1788.
The ship behind it, which I have helpfully pictured here, is the Sea Lark. This is a replica of a late eighteenth-century trading schooner. The two ships originally formed part of a pirate attraction, but now mostly just sit there and rust. I’d say it’s a sad fate for a noble vessel, but, y’know, they’re not actually vessels. Ahem.
Fortunately, I did manage to find a real historic vessel further up the Docklands Light Railway. Alighting at South Quay, I had a stroll along the waterfront and came across this delightful little thing:
The vessel moored on the right of this picture is the steam tug Portwey, formerly moored next to the Robin at the West India Quay. The charity that owns it believes it to be the last coal-fired twin-engine steam tug in the world. It was built in 1927 and withdrawn forty years later, after a lifetime hauling coal barges. Apparently you can go around the tug, and I may have to take them up on that offer. For more information, see http://www.stportwey.co.uk/. Anyone remember that children’s TV series Tugs? Yeah, that was pretty cool.
The ship on the left of that picture is the Lord Amory, a floating scout hut. And just next to that is – nooooo! (see https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/03/01/london-lies-3-invasion-docklands/ for the source of my consternation).
Perturbed by the fact that aliens were once again invading Docklands, I made my way to Stratford. Where I was disturbed to see this.
Those of you who read ‘Early Objections to Westfield London’ (see https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2009/05/30/early-objections-to-westfield-london/) will understand my pants-wetting horror at this. And so close to the alien landing site, too – what could it mean?