Monday, 11 May 2015

Silvertown's dereliction

London's Urban Sketchers were recently invited to draw Silvertown, a major £3.5 billion regeneration project in east London that will turn the derelict post-industrial wasteland into what aims to be the city's "new creative capital", with 3,000 new homes and 21,000 new jobs. Named after its 19th-century founder Samuel Winkworth Silver, it handled much of the old Empire's exports and imports until the 1960s when containerisation and new docks downstream took over. What remains - monumental, crumbling, windswept, beautiful – is Millennium Mills, once home to Rank Hovis MacDougall and Spillers, and a surviving grain silo. Set by the Thames in a wealth of concrete, graffiti, aircraft noise and wildlife-rich greenery, the site is one of the most exciting places I have ever drawn.

Because work is underway at the 62-acre site – our high visability jackets bore the logo of a asbestos removal company – numbers were limited to eight. Security is tight, and there are dogs on the site. We will be returning as it develops over the years so more regular urban sketchers in London may get a chance to visit it to draw.

Silvertown has been a popular backdrop for films (such as Derek Jarman's The Last of England), music videos (The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys) and TV (Ashes to Ashes). Yet quite why something grim in so many ways is so moving I'm struggling to understand. What is so alluring about urban desolation? London's sights are visible in the distance: Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Dome, Canary Wharf and the cable car. But Silvertown is still the twinkle in the developer's eye. Whatever it becomes, it can never be more lovely than it is now.

Sue Pownall, Evelyn Rowland, Lis Watkins, James Hobbs, Julie Bolus,
Isabelle Laliberté, Olha Pryymak and Nathan Brenville

Our thanks to the Silvertown Partnership for inviting us. 

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