It is Sunday and we have to do our weekly shopping and then take it home and store it away. As a reward (can you have a reward before you have done what you are to be rewarded for?) we take ourselves to breakfast at the Glass Works. I have already written about the Glass Works here and here, so I will say no more about it for now.
We did our shopping and took it home, and then… Well, then, we found things to do and sat around until about 2 pm. Tigger fancied going out for lunch so we walked down Pentonville Road towards King’s Cross to see what, if anything, turned up.
What turned up was Il Casale, an Italian restaurant in the Nido student accommodation block. The ground floor of this huge development is available for businesses and retail.
This was the first time I had been close to the Nido blocks. Outside the restaurant you have this dizzying view between blocks as you look up to the sky.
We caught a bus to Mile End. We hadn’t been there for a while and it was a sunny afternoon so it seemed a good time to go. We walked down to the canal.
This may look like various items of rubbish that have been swept into a corner by the current but it is in fact a coots’ nest. The nest is empty which means the young are big enough to go out on the water.
We soon saw the whole family – parents and four young – busily searching for food. Tigger caused a flurry of excitement by throwing some seeds into the water.
The canals, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes are infested with duck weed this year. In some places volunteers have been called in to clear the waterways but barely have they done so when the green layer reappears. It is so thick in places that it looks like a solid green carpet.
We watched a barge going through a lock and then sailing off down the canal. Where it passed, it made a broad path of clear water but then the duck weed closed again behind it as though no path had ever been cleared.
We walked through part of Mile End Park, which was created after the war, by transforming land occupied by industry that had been destroyed by World War II bombing. Unusual as such a project is, I think it has been successful in bringing new green space to the area.
We came out through the sports ground in King George’s Fields at the gates that bear the royal arms.
Nearby is the Ragged School Museum, an establishment that we intend the visit when it is open and we can find the time. Today it was closed.
We went on down to Limehouse where this striking Art Deco building occupies a prominent corner. Labelled simply “The Mission”, it was also called “The Empire Memorial Hostel” and provided lodgings for sailors coming in from the nearby docks.
High up on the building (a bit beyond the range of my camera lens – click to see a slightly larger version), this badge or roundel tells us that the hostel was built under the auspices of the Sailors’ Society, motto “IN SERVICE FOR THE SAILOR”. This Society, dedicated to the welfare of seafarers and their families throughout the world, still exists.
Two foundation stones on the sides of the building indicate that it was built in 1923 and then extended in 1932. Quite prominent people were involved and words such as “devotion” and “energy” suggest that they took a principal role in the founding of the hostel. I do not know any more than that and information seems sparse.
This decorative figure occurs no less than four times on the front of the building. Clearly intended to be venerable and wearing a kingly crown, this is perhaps Neptune, the god and king of the sea, framed by exotic sea plants.
Over the door appears a shield whose dates, 1914 and 1918, can surely only refer to the First World War (though some prefer the dates 1914-1919). I looked for an inscription or other references to the war (I have seen doorways used as war memorials before) but could see none. It would seem to be a mute memorial to seafarers who gave the lives in that conflagration.
In time, the docks declined in importance as trade went elsewhere. Instead, the housing potential of Limehouse began to be developed. According to the Wikipedia article on Limehouse, “The building subsequently became a run-down hostel for the homeless which became notorious for its squalor” – a sad come-down for a institution founded for such noble ends.
Ironically perhaps, the Mission is today the container for luxury apartments. But, then, why not? Even the rich must have somewhere to live and this usage does at least preserve the outer shell and appearance of an historic building, one that still speaks to us of a part of London’s complex biography and provides a memorial to those of forgotten names and faces who came from all over the world in furtherance of the trade that was its lifeblood.
Just across the road from the Mission stands another historic survival, Limehouse Town Hall. Built in 1879-81 for the Limehouse District Vestry (“vestries” were the forerunners of modern councils), it included offices and an assembly room, in which, in 1909, David Lloyd George made a famous speech attacking the House of Lords.
When Limehouse was absorbed into the Borough of Tower Hamlets in 1965 (a story repeated many times across London), the town hall became surplus to requirements. Listed Grade II in 1973, 30 years later the building was added to English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk register. It still looks in a precarious state to me.
The town hall is currently leased to the Limehouse Town Hall Consortium for arts educational and community projects. Perhaps a way can be found to save it and put it to good use. I certainly hope so.
The afternoon had started sunny but, as you might see from the photos, clouds had gathered and a gloomy atmosphere now prevailed. We decided it was time to catch a bus for home, content that we had covered quite some ground in the short time we had been out.