London River By Charles Tomlinson 31 pages of photographs Hard Cover
London River By Charles Tomlinson Blue Cover 31 pages of photographs Hard Cover Enlarged & completely revised edition 1951
THIS BOOK-or one with the same title, and in some measure resembling it-was first published thirty years ago.
There have been changes. The shipping parishes of the Thames were swept by war. Vistas were opened across established hamlets and thoroughfares, all in a night, that were surprising in width and depth ; and landmarks, once as familiar as home, disappeared. A Dockland native, wandering about, puzzled amid ruin, searching for what he used to know, was at times quite lost. He could see no recognizable bearings ; and there was nobody about to ask. The fly-bombs and rockets were then making worse of it.
This change is, after all, more than a personal matter. Not only the homes went, but they who lived there, and memory. Memory went with the landmarks. And if while leaning on a broken wall, I see below me bracken, ragwort and willow-herb growing in the cellars and about the exposed fire-places of basements where a City court stood, the one in which, in the days of sail, I was taught the business of ships, what is that to another man?-especially if a younger man. He cannot guess-and dare I tell him?-that down there among the weeds I see a figure sitting beside a broken fire-place. It was there that ghost used to talk to me of the Crimean transports, for he went down Thames in one. A younger man might smile at that. He must wait for his own weeds to grow where he never expected to see them, and for his own ghosts to show through the incredible reality of a time not come.
Still, this is far more than a personal matter. Without memory, where is tradition and a persuaded purpose? In ancient Fenchurch Street to-day, by Hughes Corner-or Poverty Corner, as out-of-work seamen used to call it-there is a car-park ; the only use we have at present for an anonymous vacancy. So I would recall, as well as I can, while there is time for it, scenes forgotten, and the tales our fathers have told us. We have a worthy tradition, but it is not clearly see' on vacant lots by another generation that has much else to think about.
Yet that generation is intimately concerned. The tradition, which is not only unseen but hardly definable, was not blown away by war. Londoners kept it. The Thames of seafarers continues to rise to high-water, and bears with ease burdens greater than ever. No change is there, except of increase. So this new edition of London River is an attempt to bring the book into accord with a later time. There are new chapters in it ; others have gone ; but pages that dwell upon a shipping parish of the long ago have been retained simply because they were impressions written at the beginning of this century, though to me they read now as if written by another man. There is included here also a revision of another book, Below London Bridge, published ten years before the Battle of Britain. That book was mainly important because pictured with photographs along the river's lower reaches by my son. With more recent photographs they appear here again, and among them are some that have an additional historical interest, for their subjects have suffered a change, or else have disappeared utterly.
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