Month 12: Bromley-by-Bow

So this was it: my last month on the project. I was kind of hoping for the coin to land on one of London’s more well known areas, like Soho, or Westminster, or something quintessentially london, like the Southbank. Instead it landed on a dual carriageway in a part of East london called Bromley-by-Bow. Looking back on it now, it’s actually a good thing that the coin didn’t land on Houses of Parliament or something. We’ve all seen thousands of photos of London’s most famous landmarks, but I’m willing to bet not many photographers have travelled to deepest East London to photograph whatever lies around the junction of the A12 and Abbot Road. Looking at the map, it seems like not much is around there, as there’s a lot of empty space showing near the River Lea. But I was rather intrigued by the two pale dots in that space, and I was determined to find out what they were.

Cat with Rubbish
Cat with Rubbish

As I entered my photographic boundary, I had a bit of a chuckle because what I saw reminded me a lot of what I saw in Willesden Junction, my first month’s destination. I had once again found myself in a run-down, litter-strewn environment, but this time even more so: I was in an industrial estate dedicated to waste disposal and recycling. A conglomeration of multiple individual outdoor units, the site included everything from an automotive junkyard, to a cardboard recycling unit, wood reclamation yard and others that just looked like piles and piles of rubbish, locked up behind metal gates. And the rubbish was not just inside the units, either. Old mattresses, tyres, broken glass and all sorts of other detritus was cluttering the streets in several places. The one hint at something cheerful amongst all this crap was that someone had hung a hanging basket of fake flowers outside the front of their unit. It was a bit manky, but least they tried. As I left this wasteland, on the corner I saw that someone had taken over an empty plot of land with a small community garden, and there was a massive carved wood sculpture of an ‘old Joanna‘ with embracing arms on it. That cheered me up a bit, too.

My next mission was to find out what those two dots on the map were. I headed in that direction, and as I approached the area, I saw towering rings of steel in the sky: they were gasometers! I find gasometers fascinating, but I’ve only ever seen them from a distance, usually while driving past, so to see two of them up close was a pretty cool thing, indeed. One of them was very low, so I could see the curved dome which kept the gas contained. The other was higher and more inaccessible, but I could still get close at the base. This part of town was a flight path, so I kept catching low-looking planes and contrails in my photos. I took a lot of pictures of the gasometers, probably more than any other subject in this entire project. So cool.

Gasometer with Contrail
Gasometer with Contrail

I then decided to head towards the River Lea, to see what was there. I knew that turning one way would take me back towards the tube station, so I turned onto the path the other way to see where it would lead. After a long walk next to the water behind some large commercial buildings and warehouses, again reminding me of my first month’s journey, I came to the end of the path and saw a rather unexpected sight: several dry docked boats, one with some picnic tables and people drinking beer outside, and another painted in rainbow colours with a family sitting outside playing with their kids. One of the women at a picnic table came over to me and explained that I was in Cody Dock, and that this was an arts complex / houseboat mooring being regenerated as part of a social enterprise. There was a local festival happening, and these people had just finished a drawing class. She invited me onto one of the boats to help myself to a drink from the bar, so I took her up on the offer, popped some cash into the Honesty Box (yes, in London!) and had a wander around. Behind this boat were some storage units that had been converted into studios, and floating in the river was a geodesic dome, which apparently was the stage for the festival.

I had started this month’s project hoping for my coin to land on something quintessentially London, and in fact it had: a quirky little underground arts development on the river, with some lovely people having a mini festival. It’s things like this that I love about London far more than any tourist landmark. Many people think of London as this big anonymous metropolis, but it’s actually a cluster of micro-communities. Some are based on geography, others on ethnicity, religion, friendship or interests, but all of them have a role to play in what makes this great city so diverse, and in making me so glad to call it my home.

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