Esoteric London

No. 469: Arundel Street, WC2

Posted in Murals, The Thames by esotericlondon on December 15, 2011

Arundel Street, London, WC2. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

London: A pilgrimage – Gustave Dore and Blanchard Jerrold, 1872:

‘This is one of the grand aspects of your London.’

We were sitting upon some barrels, not far within the St. Katherine’s Dock Gates, on a sultry summer’s day, watching the scene of extraordinary activity in the great entrepot before us.

‘There is no end to it! London Docks, St. Katherine’s Docks, Commercial Docks on the other side, India Docks, Victoria Docks; black with coal, blue with indigo, brown with hides, white with flour; stained with purple wine, or brown with tobacco!’

The perspective of the great entrepot or warehouse before us is broken and lost in the whirl and movement. Bales, baskets, sacks, hogsheads, and wagons stretch as far as the eye can reach; and there is a deep murmur rising from the busy fellows within. The solid carters and porters; the dapper clerks, carrying pen and book; the Customs’ men moving slowly; the slouching sailors in gaudy holiday clothes; the skipper in shiny black that fits him uneasily, convoying parties of wondering ladies; negroes, Lascars, Portuguese, Frenchmen; grimy firemen, and (shadows in the throng) hungry-looking day-laborers landing the rich and sweet stores of the South, or the bread-stuffs of the generous West-all this makes a striking scene that holds fast the imagination of the observer, who has just skirted the dull outer wall of a great dock, faced by the low and shabby shops of poor Jack’s arch enemies.

He who wants to study every form of ship, every kind of rigging, the thousand and one details of spars and ropes, the delightful play of light and color which is a perpetual beauty about a clipper’s deck; the sad human stories that crowd the emigrant vessel; the sailor of every clime and country; in short, the immensity of commerce that counts warehouses by the mile and goods by the hundred thousand tons can have no better field than these watery acres that give hospitable welcome to every flag. The light plays upon every known bunting. We thread our way round the busy basins, through bales and bundles and grass-bags, over skins and rags and antlers, ores and dye-woods: now through pungent air, and now through a tallowy atmosphere, to the quay, and the great river where fleets are forever moored. The four thousand feet of river frontage of the St. Katherine’s Docks only lead east to where the London Docks take up the striking story of human skill and courage, centred from every navigable sea.

[ The ceramic mural pictured above is by G.E. Wickham and it can be found integrated into the stepped entrance to 190 Strand but probably not for much longer. The building is being redeveloped and apparently the manner of attachment of the work precludes its successful removal and therefore probably seals its fate. R.D.]

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