#71: Woolwich Arsenal – 22/10/2019

Today’s visit completes the series of seven ‘ends of the line’ on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which includes a return to the Woolwich Ferry, and some more stunning views along the Thames.

The Station

At platform level the station is typically DLR with all things concrete, but the modernist design of the upper station is in some way a retro homage to the art deco era.

I’d not realised the station also doubled up with national rail services provided by Thameslink and Southeastern running from Central London into Kent. And on their shared platform (No. 1), there’s an interesting terracotta mural by Martin Williams entitled ‘Workers of Woolwich’ which portrays the history of Woolwich Arsenal in its munitions heyday.

About 200 metres south of the station is where there’ll be a new Crossrail/Elizabeth Line station running to Abbey Wood. Still under construction but it’s a shame it couldn’t have been designed to co-exist with the existing rail services. Maybe there’s a hidden passageway yet to be revealed?

Woolwich

The town centre is a somewhat depressing area, and although there’s evidence of some investment, it seems to have done little to hide the anti-social behaviour on open display: alcoholism, homelessness and drug dealing are just three examples I just ‘happened’ upon.

The town centre is dominated with an open green square overlooking the main bus stop and main station, and it’s here those with little to do seem to congregate. Listening in on their conversations as I walk past, I hear a preponderance of Eastern Europeans dialects; and there’s also a strong contingency of retired Gurkhas who have adopted one side of the square as their own. In one corner, there’s a large screen showing the Brexit debate, but those walking by or encamped in the square seem oblivious to (or maybe just bored with) the political shenanigans being played out in public.

A little north of the green is Beresford Square Market with a few fruit & veg and clothes stalls tempting those passing through looking for a bargain. It’s a colourful area, but I suspect today isn’t the market’s main day as there aren’t too many stall traders about.

Nearby, the pedestrianised and tree lined Powis Street is where the main shops are. Here I find the usual ‘budget’ high street stores interlaced with a large number of charity shops and a few local independents.

Royal Arsenal

Once an area covering 1,300 acres and employing 100,000 people at its peak, the Royal Arsenal sits on the south bank of the Thames and just north of the town. There are many well documented internet sites that provide its full history so rather than trying to precis it myself, you can read some of them for yourselves here and here.

These are well worth a read and you can learn about the early 17th Century need for munitions through to how the site grew and developed the creation of munitions supporting all the war years through to its closure in the 1960’s. This is of course where Arsenal Football Club started life back in the late 1800’s too

This area has undergone, and continues to undergo extensive regeneration; but what is noticeable is that the original architecture has been kept and that the heritage of the area is being boosted. Even some of the original road names have been kept, and I’m captivated by the road named ‘No. 1 Street’. Seems somewhat iconic don’t you think? Looking down towards James Clavell Square, there’s a very interesting sculpture by Peter Burke, but more on this in my ‘Picture of the Day’ below.

The River

I’ve listened to the London weather and traffic reports most mornings before setting off to work and often heard, particularly during the winter months, that the Woolwich Ferry is either not running or is running with a restricted service of only one ferry. Well, in the spate of a few weeks, I’ve now travelled in both directions on this free service. Two ferry boats operate in harmony and viewed from afar they look as if they perform some form of ‘Strictly’ dance midstream. They’re quite mesmerising to watch: named the Dame Vera Lynn and the Ben Woollacott. The latter in honour of a deck-hand who died in 2011.

There’s something quite wonderful about walking along the Thames; despite the river looking still, there’s movement all around as London busies itself on this arterial waterway. And plenty of walkers and cyclists take advantage of the well groomed Thames Path whose shadows ripple in the murky foreshore.

My journey’s end today is in the middle of the Thames looking west towards Canary Wharf and onwards into The City through the Thames Barrier. I never get tired of this view as it keeps on changing: day or night.

Picture of the Day

This one is taken at the very bottom of the Royal Arsenal Heritage site in James Clavell Square. There is nothing (as far as I can see) to tell me who the sculptor is so an internet search is needed. My first inkling is that it’s an installment by Antony Gormley, and some internet results also suggested this. But wrongly as it turns out and it’s a sculpture by Peter Burke.

Approaching the square form the west, I see this interesting installation from afar and capture some shots through a telephoto lens to narrow the frame whilst also capturing passers by between the 16 statues. But as I get closer, I feel it’s better to be amongst the rusty statues and I compose today’s shot still with passers by framed between the statues. I frame the decorative street lamps in such a way that they are positioned as if they’re almost part of the installation as well.

In post production, I’ve decided a black & white filter influences the picture best as it helps to highlight the starkness of the shadows cast by the early afternoon sun.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/500; Focal Length – 130mm; Film Speed – ISO200; Google filter – Vogue

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