Memories – the docks of Poplar

The whole Poplar is very flat.  Much of it is below the level of the Thames, which has pushed silt to either side causing the river to gradually rise above its surrounding flood plain.  The river is walled, embanked and constantly silently flows next to Poplar.  The river surrounds Poplar on three sides, and the docks make fingers of water through the middle of the old borough.

Bless the Thames; it was always near us with its dirty black body writhing.    On New Year’s Eve we could hear the boats greet the New Year by sounding their steam horns.  All year we could see the cranes from our bedrooms. We knew dockers.  But we were never allowed to be in sight of the river.  We were chased away from docks, not allowed to walk by its side.  There were no places nearby with River views.  If you wanted to see the Thames whose meanders formed most of the Boundaries of Poplar you had to go to Town, to the Tower of London or to the Embankment.

We told each other tales of the dirty Thames.  If you fell into it the doctors would pump out your stomach, there were so many diseases to catch.  You could never see fish there- but huge deadly eels lived there and if they caught you they would kill you sure enough.  There were said to be conger eels, deadly to touch; they killed you by electricity.

The eels I saw were in the fishmongher’s shop.  He had white tiles full of fish and cockles.  But by the shop entrance in the winter the fishmonger kept damp wooden boxes. The top box had its lid off.  Inside were a squirming mass of live eels.  Eeels were sold by weight, more or less.   If you ordered eels he would guess the amount, sling them from the damp box onto the scales, weigh them, cut them in three and wrap them in newspaper faster than it took you to read this.

You could see the cranes on the docks move from our living room window. They unload boats at the docks where the dockers worked.  Cranes moved from side to side and up and down.   But as the years passed the cranes moved less until when we moved away from Poplar in 1964 they were almost stationary.

One Response

  1. Thank you for your memories. I grew up in Oriental St.and I share your memories. But I remember getting to the river near Blackwall Tunnel via a stairway which went down to the river side, where we poked around with sticks and threw anything that came to hand into the river.

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