One of the many museums that we visited was the Museum of London Docklands and one that I found particularly interesting. I found the Thames particularly beautiful and found the history of it and the docks to be really fascinating. What I found most interesting was the Sailortown exhibit. I always find historical setups that guests can walk through and explore to be particularly interesting and I loved going into the saloon and pretending to be at the bar with the background noise and music from that time period. The Sailortown page on the museum’s website says, “Experience the bustle and hustle of Victorian Wapping in this evocative reconstruction.” It also goes on to say, “The gallery attempts to recreate the contemporary description of the area as “both foul and picturesque”. The area was a maze of streets, lanes, and alleys. Its inhabitants catered to the needs of sailors of all nationalities alighting in London.”
This museum is important to two texts: The London Scene and City of the Mind. It is mentioned in City of the Mind as the place that Matthew is reviving. As we know from the history, it was a place of dirt and grime. It was where work was done and ports were docked with boats from around the world. It definitely was in need of a revival and is a focal point of the story in this way. The more prime example of this museum relating to the text is in The London Scene. Virginia Woolf makes it very clear that no pleasure boats navigated through the river and it was a very smelly place to be, with the banks of the river lined with dingy warehouses.
With the sea blowing its salt into our nostrils, nothing can be more stimulating than to watch the ships coming up the Thames- the big ships and the little ships, the battered and the splendid, ships from India, from Russia, from South America, ships from Australia coming from silence and danger and loneliness past us, home to harbour. But once they drop anchor, once the cranes begin their dipping and their swinging, it seems as if all romance were over. If we turn and go past the anchored ships towards London, we surely see the most dismal prospect in the world. The banks of the river are lined with dingy, derelict-looking warehouses.
The Thames and these docks can be the most beautiful sight in the whole world and that is soon ruined by the derelict warehouses and the smell. It’s an important part of London’s history as the Port of London, which the Docklands were once a part of, was at one time, the world’s largest port. By the late 1970s, the docks had become obsolete and the area had become a “derelict wasteland.” The docks were transformed in the 1980s and 1990s by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) and has now become a successful center for trade. This video, from the BBC Learning Zone, highlights the changes made and gives a little history on the Docklands:
It’s a pertinent excursion to the theme of Mapping Englishness because this was once the largest port in the world and became an important part of London’s history. The museum was essential to the theme and background of Englishness because of the many exhibits illustrating the many different parts of the Docklands. Sailortown is a beautiful depiction of what life was like during that time period, the Victorian time period. So while we have the smelly Docklands and the existence of Sailortown in one part of London, we have the wealthy burying their dead loved ones in the ever prestigious Highgate. Everything connects together and becomes and essential element to the history of London and what it means to map Englishness.