Saturday, 19 June 2010

A day out to 1744

Start at your local light industrial area and walk out from there. I don't know if your zone is anything like ours, but it all looks smooth and beige and bland to me.

Lock-up, pull down, steel doors rattle around seamless lines of quick-build warehouses. They grow, over a weekend. The walls are slotted into place, the metal roof lowered, and the vehicle access panels shudder up and down at the press of a big red button. Anonymous white vans turn in wide circles on open forecourts. They slip away to join the conveyor belts of linking roads. That's it. Sanitised and safe, our twenty-first century industry.

Walk past them, down to the tow path, and it all gets smaller, enclosed, dangerous. The canals fasten themselves to the basements of dark brick buildings and interlock, stitching together old mills, disused warehouses, sidings, ends of railway lines.

The buildings rising up here are hand built, brick by brick, made to outlive the glories and destructions of empires. Once, hundreds of people worked here; whole communities inhabited these spaces. Now, footsteps echo, waters drip, machineries rust.

If you're lucky, these old and fallen palaces to industry are still there, near you, hidden behind hawthorn, watching you from broken windows. If you're unlucky, they've already been disturbed, ripped away and carted off, their insides flung open to development of waterside apartments and single bedroom flats with views of the canal.

We're lucky then, to walk here, over the footsteps of thousands who've walked here before us.

We walk back in time, into the birthplace of an industry; the site of the world's first commercial paper making machine. We discover equipment powered by steam, still in place and built in 1895; we reach back further to rushing water and hand made paper with pulped rags and deckles. We hear of the hard lives of the women, men, and children who laboured here.

We shouldn't lose these places. For the sake of those people, and to keep the thread of them alive between our fingers, you should go, and hold history for yourself.


sharon said...

I remember a trip to the old docks in I think East London many many years ago before they were redeveloped etc. Walking around the empty buildings we could still smell the tea, coffee, sugar and tobacco that had been landed and stored there. We also made visits to the great markets of London which I suspect would be ruled out these days on health and safety grounds. Shame. My grandfather used to work in the docks although I have few memories of him as he died when I was 4 but My Mum says he used to bring all sorts of rare treats home when boxes got damaged and, with 13 mouths to feed, that was a useful perk!

MadameSmokinGun said...

There's an amazing beauty in the big old 19th C Industrial Rev machinery - as 'pinned' down in the Science Museum. If something needed a lever, it got a great big brassy lever. Same with rivets etc. I love a big old rivet me. There was a real pride in the design - it was designed to WORK.

Walk on to the Space Age...... SO disappointing in it's Blue Peter tin foil and yoghurt pot appearance. For some reason the Age of Plastic that promised so much simply heralded a shame in design - designed to blend in, not offend, and not work very well. I'm thinking about plastic blobs for taps that you can't turn on with dirty hands - I want a proper big brassy horse's head tap I do. Um..... I think I've got sidetracked. Just need someone to turn the tap on really...... Sorry.