Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday 18 February 2011

Speaking of Limehouse..

It isn't what it was (but where is). About the only sign that, decades ago, Limehouse was London's Chinatown is this dragon-on-a-stick, marooned on a traffic island that most people wouldn't think of as Limehouse, since it's between Westferry and Poplar, navigating as we do by the names of the DLR stations.

Just around the corner, the Sailors' Palace reminds us this was where sailors came ashore in search of rest and recreation:

Towards Limehouse station, the area is divided by the traffic roaring (or slowly chugging) along the Commercial Road. To the south, towards the river, two canals meet at the Limehouse Basin, and all around it the glossy apartment blocks spread towards the park created when the Limehouse Link Tunnel was built

Few signs remain of the people moved out to make way for it:

Gentrification is well established north of Commercial Road too, where the large council estates are interspersed with Victorian brick terraces and squares (a "two up two down" terrace that might have been rented for a few shillings a week a hundred years ago now sells for the best part of half a million pounds).

But this inflow of "luxury" and wealth is hardly reflected in the appearance of Commercial Road. The old Library (funded by the same Mr Passmore Edwards who funded the Sailors' Palace) stands boarded up; the old Town Hall is occupied by community organisations and awaits regeneration. The spaces once occupied by useful if not very attractive workshops are gradually being infilled with new apartment blocks; but, as with so many main roads in and out of London, the pavements and buildings look like temporary, liminal, in-between places; few people linger - fast food shops, betting shops, small convenience stores and minicab offices, with the odd lettings agent, offer few opportunities for window-shopping. This is a road for people who know where they're going, which is usually somewhere else.

Between the Limehouse Cut and the main road, a long stretch of buildings, with a used tyre dump at one end, has been empty, and looking increasingly derelict for years, though a sign proclaims it's been "acquired" - perhaps a sign of more shiny apartments with "canalside views" to come. At the other end of the row, some leases seem to be falling in, and businesses are changing hands. One small building in this row, with a fanciful Victorian attempt at an olde-worlde bay window, used to be occupied by a funeral directors, clinging on like - well, like grim death; but suddenly, its boarded up windows were covered with fly-posters advertising, not just the usual club nights and aspiring rock acts, but (for a day or two only - someone's vigilant) "Attractive Escorts".

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