When I published my pictures of Wapping Stairs this week, a reader reminded me of Wilfred Owen’s enigmatic poem of 1918, Shadwell Stair, sending me back to the river to take this photograph for you
I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
Along the wharves by the water-house,
And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.
Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
And eyes tumultuous as the gems
Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.
Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
Where I watch always; from the banks
Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.
I walk till the stars of London wane
And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
But when the crowing syrens blare
I with another ghost am lain.
Wilfred Owen (1893 -1918)
Shadwell Stair in 1937
The Prospect of Whitby
Shadwell Church seen from the entrance to Shadwell Basin
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Charles Dickens in Shadwell & Limehouse