PortCities London

The riverside wharves

'Another life below'
 

The window into the port

The Pool from London Bridge
View full size imageThe 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.
 

Lotta at London Bridge Wharf, with New Fresh Wharf being built
View full size imageThe 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'

London Bridge.
View full size imageLondon Bridge. © NMM
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'.

 

 

Nils Gorthon at the New Fresh Wharf
View full size imageThe Nils Gorthon at the New Fresh Wharf. © NMM
He noticed that most people preferred the east side of the bridge – the one overlooking the Pool.

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'

The Virgen de Valme alongside the New Fresh Wharf
View full size imageThe Virgen de Valme alongside the New Fresh Wharf. © NMM
Tomlinson thought many of the spectators seemed under a spell. He wondered what they thought as they returned to their offices or their homes.

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'

Tower Bridge
View full size imageTower Bridge and the Upper Pool. © NMM
Morton felt that the sight of a foreign ship leaving the Pool conjured up 'a vision of foreign towns, blue waters and coral reefs'.

For Tomlinson, a ship departing towards Tower Bridge evoked wistful thoughts of a 'world beyond the one we know'.

Tower Bridge.
View full size imageTower Bridge. © NMM

 The spell ended only with the lowering of Tower Bridge, when 'the gates to the outer world close again'.


 





   Back to The National Dock Labour Scheme and labour relations after 1945
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