Friday, December 5, 2008

The Voyage East I - Gallions Reach - Where the Journey East Began

I spent some time recently wading through shipping records to track some people back and forth between England and China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The shipping, as well as immigration, records out of and into England are pretty good and easy to use. What interested me was that when ships bound for Hong Kong, Shanghai and all points east sailed from the Port of London they invariably sailed from the Gallions Reach basin (above photographed this year). A lot of people always comment in their memoirs and diaries that the night before they sailed from London they stayed at the Gallions hotel. In the nineteenth century Gallions Reach was a fairly long journey from central London.

So with an afternoon free in London earlier this year I decided to see what was left of Gallions Reach and the old hotel (left, as it was in 1883). Now you can get out there on the DLR light rail to, obviously, Gallions Reach station - almost the end of the line way out in East London near the old Beckton gasworks. The dock itself fell into disuse a long time ago - it was the set for the film Full Metal Jacket before being redeveloped. It is now yuppified in that horrible late 80s LDDC style that was popular back then. It's a stone throw from London City Airport so you can see the planes come in. And there's the inevitable 'retail park'. All remnants of any buildings from that time seem gone except...

I was delighted to find that the Gallions Hotel seems to have somehow survived the redevelopment madness of the old docklands. Not just survived but being restored it seems - probably to be a 'fun pub' for East London's binge drinking community, but still, give thanks for small mercies. In fact it's quite an impressive building though was originally attached to the Gallions Road train station - both that station and line (originally opened in 1880 by the London and St Katherines Dock Company) are long gone leaving the hotel looking a little isolated - the front door used to open straight onto the platform! There was one train a day and so departing passengers trained it to Gallions Road, stepped straight into the Gallions Hotel and then boarded their ship when the tide was right. Seemless - six weeks later you're in Shanghai!

I hope to get back soon and find it open for business - it last operated as a pub way back in 1972 though, as you can see, externally the place looks in good shape with the original moulds, chimneys etc.

The Voyage East II - Port Said

The Voyage East III - Alexandria

The Voyage IV - Through the Canal

The Voyage East V - Suakim, Port Sudan

The Voyage East VI - Resupply at Aden
The Voyage East VII - Gibraltar
The Voyage East VIII - Suez- You Rather Hoped Not


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