Some say London is paved in gold. That is not quite true. There are ways one can experience it and they are, in truth, golden. They are the walks, in a safe city, at all times of the day or night, revealing architectural marvels, historical corners, oral histories retold, under the bridge communities, housing estates, street art and corporate communes wrapped around a few blocks from each other. They may not always live in harmony with each other, but they certainly demand each others existence to enrich their own. This is not gentrification, or poetics of urban spaces but a slow crawl of inverted commas on concepts undefined, yet golden for their moment in time.
As the summer came to a close, it is only fair to be sharing memories of moments by the water, the gentle warmth of the days and evenings at home and away.
Being busy with work, and preparing for rowing competitions, put plans well behind however the time of days on the beach, drinks by the river and working on a canal boat in the gentle breeze balanced the summer out.
Now onto the next adventure. More to follow…
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.