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A Riverside Walk In the Eighties

January 24, 2020
by the gentle author

David Rees sent me these photographs – published here for the first time today – that he took in the streets within walking distance on either side of the Thames when he worked at Tower Hill in the eighties.

Cathedral St, SE1

“I took these photos when I was working at Trinity House in the early eighties just before the ‘regeneration’ of the London Docks. Crossing the river, it was five minutes’ walk to Shad Thames and ten minutes’ walk to the Liberty of the Clink. Walking east, it was ten minutes via St. Katharine Docks to Wapping where the streets smelt of cinnamon and mace on late summer evenings.” – David Rees

Winchester Sq

Borough Market

Borough Market

Borough Market

Rochester Walk

Nelson’s Wharf from Old Barge House Stairs

Anchor Brewery

Clink St

Mill St

Hays Wharf

Weston St

Church of the English Martyrs seen from Chamber St

Longfellow Rd Mission

Essex Wharf

Holland St

Wapping Old Stairs

Queen Elizabeth St

Billingsgate Market

Chambers Wharf

Crown Wharf

Green Dragon St

Free Trade Wharf

Oliver’s Wharf

Oxo Tower

St Benet’s Wharf

Photographs copyright © David Rees

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20 Responses leave one →
  1. January 24, 2020

    Forty years, and a different world. Shabbier, yes; but a league-and-a-half more interesting than today’s heritage’y pastiche for young passing-throughs.

  2. Thomas Rashbrook permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Thank you David,

    Your photos evoked many fond memories of patrolling Wapping, out of the old Leman Street nick, from the late 70’s through to the late 80’s. So many wonderful smells and who knows, our paths may even have crossed.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Ah, Borough Market, before “the change” …
    I went there one suprisingly warm & drizzly February evening, abut 1994 …
    It was like stepping onto the set of “My Fair Lady”

  4. Patricia Lewis permalink
    January 24, 2020

    It is so fortunate to have such a history of these areas/buildings. If the date hadn’t been noted I would have thought earlier. Love Spitalsfield Life, thank you

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Quite agree with Jim! And ‘young passing throughs’ is a great description of today’s transient population.

    One of the most memorable nights out I have ever had was a pub crawl through Southwark back in the late Seventies when it was all still very Dickensian, especially around the Clink Street area.

    And suddenly coming across the ruins of the medieval Winchester Palace was really spooky and spine tingling.

  6. January 24, 2020

    I often wonder,when i see photos of Billingsgate market ,where my Great great grandfathers Fish brokering business was in there, Benjamin Defee .

  7. Eric Forward permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Incredible photos, we’re all so lucky for David taking the time & effort as it was certainly more cost & hassle then. There is a nostalgia for what seem like simpler times, but these places were left to rot and not all redevelopment is bad.

  8. Jill permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Truly marvellous images and record of that area.
    Thankyou for sharing these.

  9. January 24, 2020

    Yes, a totally different world. Not that I want to live in the past, far from it, but somehow I feel that a lot has been lost in the past forty years.

  10. January 24, 2020

    Beautiful photography, if only pictures could speak. So many stories to be told by thousands who worked and walked there. Are any of buildings still standing.?

  11. Colin Nicolson permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Wonderful evocative photos – but dirty, shabby, run-down, and no reason to go there except to see the relics of a a more prosperous and useful past. The Markets delelict and empty, the Riverside deserted and dangerous. I can’t believe that you can say that it was better then today Jim. If it was so wonderful in the ’80’s, how come it was so empty and deserted?

  12. Libby Hall permalink
    January 24, 2020

    Beautiful photographs!

  13. January 24, 2020

    I so enjoy the photos here, of course. But today I am reminded of the personal reverie that occurs when we “spend time with ourselves” and chronicle our surroundings. As I looked through this array, I recalled moments in my own life when I carved away personal time to just “be”. Whether I turned to a sketchbook, camera, or my own silent curiosity — the time was revelatory, AND liberating. (I think the Quakers have a Thanksgiving prayer that lauds “the quiet mind”.)

    I enjoyed this post for innumerable reasons. Thanks for the rich food for thought, as ever, GA.

  14. January 24, 2020

    What absolutely fascinating images, so thank goodness life back then was so beautifully recorded on film. Oh how life changes – sometimes for the better – sometimes not.

  15. January 25, 2020

    Colin, to be fair, I didn’t use the word ‘better’. I said more interesting. Yes, it was run down and definitely past its time; I just feel that much, much more could have been made of it than actually was. To go down the river today is to see an interminable display of failed architecture, so of-its-rather-unpleasant-time that it was outdated almost before the first yuppies moved in.

  16. January 25, 2020

    We bought our first little house in Bermondsey in the 80s and sometimes I would walk to work near Tower Hill and I can remember one of the spice warehouses still in operation and the lingering smell of cinnamon…..wonderful!

    Having now moved away, I often return to walk along the river and, whilst it is good to see a new generation returning to the area, I remember those days with affection.

  17. Belinda permalink
    January 25, 2020

    May have been shabbier but more atmospheric and also alive than in soulless London now. I am a born and bred Londoner yet don’t feel it’s the home town I knew then. They think it was frightening then, it’s nowhere near what it is now. Some things don’t change for the better

  18. Colin Nicolson permalink
    January 25, 2020

    Point taken Jim. It could all have been done a lot better, but a whole lively new area of the city has been opened up. I remember going to an ehibition at the Bankside gallery in the ’80’s and straying a bit down towards the deliclt power-station. Nothing there but a group of rather menacing winos sitting on a bench amongst the swirling litter.

  19. January 25, 2020

    Such wonderful photos. When I was a young teen my parents sent me to walk the City streets of a Sunday when not a cat stirred as I was a would-be photographer. I don’t think I ever brought home a single image that would compare to these, and somewhere I have the negs to prove it!

  20. David McNab permalink
    February 24, 2020

    In the Land of the Cortina, the Triumph Stag was King.

    Congratulations Mr Rees. I’d love to see more.

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