Paul Talling is probably best known for his hit book ‘Derelict London‘, in which he presented photographs of the bits of London that time forgot. Old pubs, disused seaman’s missions, boarded-up churches, decaying houses and much much more faded architectural glamour.
He also does these guided walks. I’ve done a couple of them before, and they’re great. He seems to have drunk with every old landlord and old lag in London, and can spin the most unlikely tale. The route of this walk took us around Woolwich, Gallion’s Reach, Beckton and the Royal Docks, Woolwich Arsenal and on to the delights of West Thamesmead. We took in a bit of the foreshore and an old Arsenal Football ground. Sound epic? Talling’s walks are epic, and usually end in the pub.
The day started at Gallions Reach DLR and proceeded straight down towards the docks and the river to have a look at some of the significant change that has happened in this area over the past few years.
This whole area has been variously redeveloped and abandoned over the past couple of decades or so. The building in the background (with the stilts) was only built in 1999, but has already been abandoned and left for nature to take its course.
Down by the dock, we had a look at some of the old river frontage which serviced the old Beckton Gas Works
Beckton Gas Works covered a huge area, over 500 acres, but none of the old buildings survive and the site now contains blocks of flats, a number of new roads, trading estates and a giant Tesco.
Famously, Stanley Kubrick used the, then already derelict, site to shoot the Vietnam scenes for his 1987 film Full Metal Jacket. Far more importantly, scenes from Loop’s 1990 Arc Lite video were filmed there.
From there we walked along a rough path to a ladder in the retaining wall.
Now, this all looked pretty unlikely but after a little clambering and scrambling through the undergrowth we encountered not only the river but also the hulk of an abandoned Thames barge.
The FROG among us immediately started tweeting pictures of it to TDP HQ, and muttering darkly about possible fieldwork and how many people would be needed to get the timbers recorded.
Definitely a project for another time.
Moving ever onward, we crossed over the entrance to the Royal Albert Dock,
and then a little more walking around North Woolwich took us to the oldest terraced council houses in London
and a local pub whose uppers floors were destroyed in the Blitz.
The pub has closed down now and the site is for sale, but while we were looking at it, a man who lived across the road stopped and asked if we were thinking of buying it. When I explained that we were looking at the area’s history he started to tell us about the reality of living in the area. There have been proposals for the redevelopment of the pub, but there is a height restriction (any new owner cannot rebuild the upper stories) and the cost of making the property sound is prohibitive (the cellar is full of water and the estimate, just to solve the problems caused by this, is around £100k!). The only sure way to find out about an area is to chat with someone who actually lives there.
A stop off at the local caff for a cuppa and a bite to eat, and then we were off again via a disused railway station,
and this derelict pier, once used on a visit by Winston Churchill.
Next a trip across the river on the Woolwich Free Ferry (my first trip on the ferry) took us over to the site of the old Woolwich Dockyard. Founded by Henry VIII in 1512 as the building site for his flagship, Henri Grâce à Dieu (‘Henry, Grace of God’, AKA, the ‘Great Harry’).
The clockhouse has lately been used as a community arts centre,
and several of the run docks have been incorporated into the housing schemes, and are used by water birds and local residents for fishing.
The whole area is dotted with remnants of the area’s naval past and, in particular, all the canon seem to really bring out people’s inner Cher.
Then we went off into town to see something which may or may not be close to your hearts. The very first branch of McDonalds to open in the UK
Moving swiftly on, on the other side of town is the Royal Arsenal, where we stopped briefly for a drink.
This modern pub, the Dial Arch, was built onto a standing arch built in 1720. It was through this arch that the workers at the Royal Gun Factories streamed to work, and it was later generations of these workers who formed the naissant Arsenal Football Club, then known as Dial Square FC.
We then set off for a little walk around West Thamesmede, past this Gormley-esque installation by Peter Burke, called ‘The Assembly’,
and taking in this huge, drained canal basin, built in1814 using convict labour and complete with a lock and swing bridge. All disused and neglected.
After all this, I must admit, we were all flagging so we made our way back to Woolwich, taking in the sites of a couple of Arsenal FC’s former grounds, and back to the Dial Arch pub for a reviving drink of cider. Pubs being what they are, we fell to chatting about this and that, mainly politics and music, and I discovered, amongst other things, that Paul used to put on gigs at the George Robey in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Anyone else remember Club Dog?
A great day out.
Details of Paul’s guided walks can be found here: http://www.derelictlondon.com/ and they’re highly recommended. They’re popular too. This particular walk has been sold out on 13 occasions this year already and there are at least another 3 scheduled, so if you like the look of one of the walks, get it booked PDQ.
* The FROG is the Foreshore Recording and Observation Group, working under the umbrella organisation of the Thames Discovery Programme.