Flotsam and jetsam. Photo & text: David Secombe (5/5)

The Thames opposite the Royal Hospital, Greenwich. Photo © David Secombe, 2001.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 10, 1832:

The inhabitants of Greenwich were amused by a man walking under the surface of the water in the Thames immediately opposite the Royal Hospital. A craft was moored off the stairs to which was affixed  a ladder, down the steps of which the exhibitor descended to the water. He was dressed in a manner so as to exclude the water from penetrating, and upon his head he wore a sort of helmet which covered his face, and in which were two small bull’s eyes, whereby he was enabled to see. During the exhibition he remained under the water nearly twenty minutes.

David Secombe writes:

As far as I can tell, the above photo of a stricken Bart Simpson was taken exactly where the event described in this clipping from The Gentleman’s Magazine took place. One can only imagine the amount of sheer ordure than the intrepid aquanaut would have waded through in the course of his heroic feat, which took place over a quarter century before Joshua Bazalgette began his improvements to London’s sanitation by directing raw sewage underground and downstream.

The buildings under construction on the Isle of Dogs are for Barclays Bank and HSBC, appropriately charmless additions to London’s skyline. What Bart was doing in the Thames, I don’t know.

… for The London Column.


Flotsam and jetsam. Photo & text: David Secombe (4/5)

Middle of the Thames, west of the Barrier. Photo © David Secombe, 1997.

David Secombe and Katy Evans-Bush write:

The current wave of Olympic propaganda serves as a reminder of what was lost when the facilities in the Lea Valley were built. A sweetly romantic backwater of the Lea, a wild and mysterious haven for wildlife and Londoners alike, an oasis within the eastern London industrial sprawl, has been swept away in favour of a corporatised theme park. Canal boat dwellers on the River Lea are fighting draconian tightenings of rules and increases in fees from British Waterways that will break up a longstanding community and render them effectively homeless –  an attempt to make the river suitably anodyne for the tourists (and presumably pave the way for future commercial ventures).

As usual, the destruction of the irreplaceable is described by its proponents as ‘regeneration’, offering ‘opportunities for business’, etc., etc.  Bit by bit, we continue to lose that older, gentler, more open and more intimate city, in favour of a controlled, corporate-sponsored environment.

The new Olympic desert is the second time in recent years that a locally important riverside enclave has been destroyed under the flag of ‘national pride’. In the late 1990s, it was south-east London’s turn to get its sanitised corporate make-over, in the run-up to the Millennial fiasco at ‘North Greenwich’ (i.e. Bugsby’s Reach). The Dome was created on a stretch of industrial wasteland, yet there was an intriguing riverside community thriving in the vicinity – including, ironically (see Tuesday’s post) a young Damien Hirst, planning his bid for domination of the world’s art markets from a ménage-a-trois in a riverside cottage.  Clearly, this Ealing comedy-like backwater was going to be out of place next to Blair’s vaulting dome, and was duly vapourised – except for a ‘picturesque’ riverside terrace, which was retained within the Dome’s landscaped environs: thus is young Damien’s home preserved.

The gentlemen in the above photo were members of a boating club located a few hundred yards downriver of the Millennium site. The club was too near the Dome, then under construction, for the comfort of the planners, and was duly cleared as part of the riverside ‘improvements’. And what exactly have been the long-term benefits of the  Millennium Village?

(See also: Domeland series, starting here.)

… for The London Column.


Flotsam and jetsam. Photo and text David Secombe (3/5)

Blackwall Tunnel southern approach, SE10, 1997. Photo © David Secombe.

David Secombe writes:

The mock-Tudor building in front of the gas holder in the picture above is the former home of the 1980s comedy club The Tunnel Palladium, so called because the building sits only a few yards way from the mouth of the southern entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. The club was run by the legendary local comic and promoter Malcolm Hardee, and it played host to many key figures in the alternative comedy circuit at the start of their careers.

Amongst the legions of anecdotes concerning Malcolm Hardee, three are worth retelling here . . .

1)    At the 1983 Edinburgh Fringe, he became annoyed by excessive noise from an adjacent comedy tent where Eric Bogosian was performing, and retaliated by stealing a tractor and driving it, naked, across Bogosian’s stage during his performance.

2)    He stole Freddie Mercury’s 40th birthday cake and gave it to an old people’s home.

3)    He pioneered a stage routine (later taken up by Chris Lynam) in which the performer sings There’s No Business like Show Business whilst holding a lit firework between his buttocks.

Malcolm Hardee died in January 2005, drowning in Greenland Dock, where his houseboat was moored; the Coroner’s verdict was that he had fallen into the dock whilst drunk.  According to the police constable who retrieved Malcolm’s body from the water, he was found still clutching a bottle of beer in his right hand.

… for The London Column.


Flotsam and jetsam. Photo & text David Secombe. (2/5)

The Thames, looking east from Hungerford Bridge, 2010. Photo © David Secombe.

From Tate Online : 1 May 2003:

From 23 May Tate to Tate, a new boat service on the river Thames, will be available for gallery lovers. The service, which runs every forty minutes during gallery opening hours between Tate Modern and Tate Britain, will be launched on 22 May by The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. The boat also stops at the London Eye.

The Tate to Tate boat service, operated by Thames Clippers, is a state-of-the art 220 seat catamaran with specially commissioned exterior and interior designs by leading artist Damien Hirst. The boat is sponsored by St James Homes, a property developer.

David Secombe writes:

Now that Damien Hirst is the richest artist in the world (proof if any were needed of the global success of that strange London-based phenomenon known as ‘BritArt’), it seems entirely fitting that ‘the fastest’ commercial vessel on the Thames, ferrying passengers to and from the world’s most popular – some might say populist – art gallery, bears one of his patented designs. The Tate boat is decorated with Hirst’s bright, multi-coloured dots, and travels between those twin bastions of culture, Tate Modern and Tate Britain – the former fashioned from a derelict power station, the latter built on the site of a penitentiary.

For good or ill, Hirst seems to be the artist who best embodies his time; one can’t imagine a Bacon Barge or a Rothko Raft, whereas our Damien’s spotty pleasure cruiser – made possible by a property consortium – seems completely, depressingly, apt.

(The London Column has not yet felt the siren call of the current Hirst exhibition at the Tate, but you can read a response to the Sotheby’s extravaganza of 2008 on Baroque in Hackney. For another view of Hirst and his influences, see: http://www.stuckism.com/Hirst/StoleArt.html.)


Flotsam and jetsam. Photo & text: David Secombe. (1/5)

Isle of Dogs, 1988. Photo © David Secombe.

From  Without the City Wall, Hector Bolitho and Derek Peel, 1952:

No part of London endured more bombing during the Second World War than the Isle of Dogs. Anyone who has flown over the Thames at night will recall how the river makes a splendid curve here, and how the moonlight shining on the slow oily waters turns the peninsula into a perfect target. The German bombers came to know it well, and the dock and warehouses suffered night after night. The rebuilding has covered many of the scars, but also many of the old romantic streets …”

David Secombe writes:

The photo above – taken for a magazine assignment to illustrate the growth of London’s Docklands – gives a small indication of the speculative building frenzy which characterised the mid-1980s. The building on the right in the photo above, newly constructed when this picture was taken, is Cascades, designed by Piers Gough for CZWG architects. Cascades was the first private apartment block to be built on the Isle of Dogs – a trailblazer for all the other developments of ‘executive homes’ (marginalising the ‘indigenous’ population, naturally) which – despite the occasional market wobble – have followed in its wake. Elsewhere on the Isle of Dogs at the time of this image, the massive foundations of Olympia and York’s Canary Wharf were being laid; gradually, the ethereal, silver profile of 1 Canada Square (the “tallest habitable building in Britain” according to Wikipedia) rose into the sky, elegantly dominating the landscape for miles around – until it was crowded by a cluster of far more vulgar towers belonging to big, bad corporations like Barclays and HSBC. If anyone wants to look for physical manifestations of the arrogance of capitalism, the Isle of Dogs has to be London’s most conspicuous example.

… for The London Column.


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