The window into the port
|The Pool, from London Bridge. © NMM|
To most people now, the docks and the port mean the same thing. Few would have thought that way in the past.
The docks were hidden by high walls or fences. Only those who worked there could get in, and neither the dock companies nor the workers welcomed strangers.
|The Lotta at London Bridge Wharf. © NMM|
Far more visible were the busy wharves lining both banks of the Thames.
Even here, access was difficult, as warehouses separated them from the districts beyond.
For average Londoners, the real window into the port was London Bridge.
'Another life below'
Henry Major Tomlinson (1873-1958), one of the most sensitive and perceptive commentators of his time, liked to watch 'that multitude who cross London Bridge every day'.
|London Bridge. © NMM|
He noticed that most people preferred the east side of the bridge – the one overlooking the Pool.
|The Nils Gorthon at the New Fresh Wharf. © NMM|
Once there, they could not 'resist a pause to stare overside' at 'another life below, with its strange cries and mysterious movements'.
'The view from London Bridge'
Tomlinson thought many of the spectators seemed under a spell. He wondered what they thought as they returned to their offices or their homes.
|The Virgen de Valme alongside the New Fresh Wharf. © NMM|
H. V. Morton (1892-1979), another great observer of London, felt the 'unsettling' power of 'the view from London Bridge'.
'The gates to the outer world'
Morton felt that the sight of a foreign ship leaving the Pool conjured up 'a vision of foreign towns, blue waters and coral reefs'.
|Tower Bridge and the Upper Pool. © NMM|
For Tomlinson, a ship departing towards Tower Bridge evoked wistful thoughts of a 'world beyond the one we know'.
|Tower Bridge. © NMM|
The spell ended only with the lowering of Tower Bridge, when 'the gates to the outer world close again'.