The Museum of the London Docklands was a very interesting excursion. If we hadn’t gone there I’m not sure I would have seen the docklands which would have left me with a skewed image of this section of London. Before our excursion the only things I knew about the docklands was what Virginia Woolf said about them in her 80+ year old series of essays ‘The London Scenes’. Equipped with Woolf’s descriptions I can say that stepping out of the tube system and seeing the modern day docklands was a shocking moment. Woolf had stated in the 1930s that the docklands was an unpleasant place that was dirty and smelled bad. The docklands of today are honestly the largest, cleanest, fanciest business district I have ever seen.
It was when I saw what the docklands are like now that helped me see City of the Mind better. Matthew Halland’s project at the docklands had been difficult to picture without warehouses, cranes, and barges (which are certainly there but not the focus) but when I walked down a concrete courtyard flanked by massive steel buildings covered in spotless glass and nearly tripped over a precisely cut out strip in the ground that allowed a thin, straight trail of water to run down the courtyard for no apparent reason, I realized how immensely lucrative this place is and how well Halland must have been doing as an architect.
The docklands is quite a different place than what Woolf described and the museum of the Docklands taught me about this dramatic change. I think I can speculate that the docklands would not be what they are today without what happened in World War II. Progress that reflected the changing times might have been significantly slower had a large portion of the docks not been destroyed by bombs in the London Blitz of the early 1940s. The Germans strategically heavily bombed the docks of London which they knew would be economically devastating for the British. This situation of having to rebuild certainly would have accelerated the process of change into what we see as the docklands now.
In the museum, the first thing you learn about, obviously, is Londinium and its creation by the Romans. The Romans had created a port along the Thames as a supply base they called Londinium in AD 50. They continued to defeat the native Britons and soon established a town at the port of Londinium. As a plaque at the museum says, “In AD 60, the Roman writer Tacitus, described Londinium as ‘an important centre for merchants and merchandise’.” So even since its inception, London has been an important port of trade, though now its main function is simply importing goods. Reading about this gave me a better idea of what Londinium would have looked and been like in The Emperor’s Babe.
As we know, London’s massive expansion from these humble beginnings turned Britain into a formidable empire, one of the biggest in the world. Further along in the museum I found a drawing from 1805 that embodies the Britain’s global influence, and its narcissism. The following picture is an “Emblematic Representation of Commerce and Plenty Presenting the City of London with the Riches of the Four Quarters of the World”. As you can see, the four corners of the world are presented in the drawing as very small people implying that Britain is literally bigger and better. I found it extremely interesting that the three main figures in the drawing, ‘Commerce’, ‘Plenty’, and ‘The City of London’ are all women. As I could find no information on this drawing at allWhat do you suppose this means in an England of 1805? As I could find no further information on this drawing at all, I’ll leave it as food for thought…