Wapping Old Stairs E

On a radiantly bright day I walked East from the City in search of horizons. Wapping, east of Tower Bridge, is where the buildings at last are of human size, and you can see the sky.

Next to the pub called “Town of Ramsgate” on Wapping High Street, there is a small passage, a slot between buildings. I darted down there, and found a long view over the Thames, and the stone steps leading down to the river. This is Wapping Old Stairs E. Turning round, to go back, I saw this mix of buildings.

On the right, with the blue window, is the “Town of Ramsgate”. High above it are the walls of the former warehouse “Oliver’s Wharf”, built in 18691 The warehouse was turned into flats in 1970-1972, making it one of the very early warehouse conversions. Warehouse conversions later extended all the way down the river on both sides.

Sketch map showing the buildings around Wapping Old Stairs E.

On the left are the backs of the houses on “Pier Head”, which is a wide elegant road joining Wapping High Street to the river. There is a chain across the road to deter those of us who would like to look at the river from there.

One of the things I notice doing these sketches is the amazing number of television aerials that persist on rooftops, in defiance of the proliferation of broadband services. In this view there are two, both seriously complex and business-like examples of the genre. I think it is time for a exhibition of Television Aerials, as Art. If you are the V&A reading this, consider it now, before they all disappear, or become very valuable.

Wapping Old stairs is not a lonely place. It must feature in books. During the hour and a quarter I was there four couples and individuals walked along the passageway, looked out to the river, took photos and walked back. A man came with his tiny dog. The dog showed an unwise interest in my water pot, which by that time contained an unhealthy mix of Perinone Orange, Phthalo Turquoise and Mars Yellow. I tried to deter the dog from drinking it, and then had to explain to the dog’s owner that I didn’t mind the dog atall, but I didn’t think he should drink that particular water. They were going to go for a walk on the foreshore, but the tide was still high and sloshing over the steps, which put paid to that idea.

Here is work in progress.

(1) F. & H. Francis. 1869-70. Wapping, London E1. Built for George Oliver “in the Tudor gothic style, this wharf handled general cargo but had special facilities for tea” [Craig, Charles, et al.  London’s Changing Riverscape: Panoramas from London Bridge to Greenwich. London: Francis Lincoln, 2009. Quoted in “victorianweb.org”]

View from the South side of the river, photo from “LoveWapping.org”. This photo shows the smoke from a fire which broke out in one of the flats, Sept 2019.

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