If all goes according to plan I’ll be moving into this historic wharf on the River Thames.
My family moved to London’s docklands several generations ago. My great great grandfather owned a stevedore company, unloading ships. Our family name was painted in large letters on the warehouse along the wharf.
My great grandfather drank away the family fortune and the business went to ruin. He was a boxer and a steeplejack. He had a reputation for being fierce and fearless but he was also a drunken bully.
My grandfather, in contrast, was a gentle man and teetotal. He never consulted a doctor if he could help it, preferring remedies made from herbs that he grew on his allotment. He was a day labourer on the docks, which meant he had many days without work and the family often had to eat bread and dripping or tripe for supper.
My father studied hard and, after leaving the army at the end of World War Two, became an accountant. My mother was from Newcastle but she came to London during the war and that’s how she met my father. They moved out of London before I was born but my grandmother lived all her life near the docks. Coming home from her house in the dark, I would be curled up in the back of the car and I often used to stare at the dark blue sign of East India Dock Road and wonder what kinds of ships were unloaded there in my grandfather’s day.
The wharf I’m moving to was originally the shipyard where the Great Eastern was launched in 1850. This was the largest ship ever built at the time and getting it afloat was quite a struggle. It was launched sideways and it took four attempts.
When the ship building industry moved, the site was used for the manufacture of paint. The buildings were converted into apartments in 1995 and are a Class II historic site, which means they’re of special historic interest.
Indeed they are.