Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

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So which Hackney Wick

Walking through the waterways, up and down across the bridges I am confused as to what price you can place on which experience.

The Olympic stadium glares light in the distance, reflecting onto the waterways, drawing the eye over. There are street lights, yellow glare making seeing harder than it ought to be in the dark.

There is lighting and different shades, colours and intensities, warming up the night’s colouring from square box apartments paid for by the mill.

There are peeping john’s from dilapidated rooms upstairs from warehouse spaces.

The paradox is uncanny. Boxes upon boxes, with different vibration of electric energy lighting up the inside of the box, marking their position to the street below.

Dark chipped corners, with flaking paper glue adverts hanging off, contrasting the clean cut edges of the new apartments.

The most colourful and mesmerising visuals, the caked graffiti. Layers over layers, of spray paint. Different times of the day pushing backgrounds to fore, that shape and the separation from the other spaces, a rolling show of two dimensional characters and shapes.