“The only thing, one comes to feel, that can change the routine of the docks is a change in ourselves”
-Virginia Woolf, The London Scene
I expected the docklands in London, as described by Virginia Woolf, to be ridden with sewage and a foul scent. As the docklands were not told to be an area of upper-class or wealth, and were thus forgotten and littered with garbage and the black smoke of factories. While I did imagine a small change in cleanliness and a little bit of restoration to have been implemented upon the area, I did not expect to see anything less than “dingy, decrepit-looking warehouses” that “huddle on land that has become flat and slimy with mud. The same air of decrepitude and of being run up provisionally stamps them all” (The London Scene “The Docks of London” 7). I expected factories, broken windows, some dirty Victorian architecture with low ceilings and signs of being overlooked for years. Clearly, upon entering the docklands, I was not prepared for the restoration that had consumed the area.
Upon exiting the tube, I looked up to see a massive dome-like structure engulfing the escalators leading up to ground-level. The glass reverberated light inward, beaming like crystal from the water’s reflection playing off its plates. I squinted as I walked, not rode, up the escalator into the warmth being emitted from the sun. My lower-jaw immediately parting from the upper as my eyes struggled to understand that enormity of the buildings that surrounded me, and the sea of suits and luxurious, business-like dresses that bustled to and from buildings that looked too modern for the quaint London I was used to in Bloomsbury. The air was rich with food and completely vacant of the sewage that Woolf had spoken of in her essay. Fountains and statues were sprinkled among the city and the melody of many different languages and accents appeared cheerful and intelligent as it was emitted from all of the people surrounding me. The streets were clear of dirt and shined with the meticulous care that they must have received in order to become the greatness that they were.
Learning of the reconstruction that the land had undergone within the Museum of the Docklands was fascinating, my favorite part being the model of the “Sailor’s Town” that we were able to walk through. The town, of course, embodied more of what I expected to see upon my arrival in Canary Wharf and it was interesting to see the juxtaposition between what Woolf likely saw when she was writing the essay and what I saw now. Being able to turn such a dismal and sewage ridden part of the city into the spectacular spectacle that it is today, I believe, is a true portrayal of London’s ability to rebuild all parts of itself from the ashes. While the docklands may not have been preserved for what they were, like structures such as St. Paul’s and Highgate were, London was still able to save an area and turn it into something great, while utilizing the museum to commemorate what it was and archive what it had grown from.
London Docklands, past to present
History of Canary Wharf
Properties for sale in the Docklands