Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Urban Sketchers go to Silvertown

Lis Watkins, Millennium Mills

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 Silo D, a surviving grain silo. Set by the Thames in a wealth of concrete, graffiti, aircraft noise and wildlife-rich greenery, the site is an exciting and evocative place to draw.

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

Because work is underway at the 62-acre site numbers were limited to eight. We will be returning as it develops over the years so other regular urban sketchers in London may get a chance to visit it to draw. This post includes the work of four of us from the first visit: Lis Watkins, Julie Bolus, Evelyn Rowland and me, James Hobbs. The work of the other four РNathan Brenville, Isabelle Laliberté, Sue Pownall and Olha Pryymak Рwill follow in Nathan's post.

Julie Bolus, Millennium Mills

The site is a forbidding place. It is reached from a high footbridge over the Thames near the Excel Centre, where planes for City Airport fly low overhead. Security is tight, and there are dogs on the site. The area inside is huge and bleak, but strangely appealing to draw. Within minutes we were scattered across the site. Our high visability jackets – bearing the logo of the asbestos removal specialists working in Millennium Mills – meant it was possible to pick each other out on the other side of the wilderness at what seemed miles away.

Evelyn Rowland, Silo D

What is planned for all this? Millennium Mills and Silo D will be home to businesses and restaurants, the Crossrail link will connect it to the rest of the city and beyond, there will be new amenities for people already living there, such as schools and health services, a piazza the size of Covent Garden, new bridges and walkways... but this is all a long way off.

James Hobbs, looking west

Silvertown has been a popular backdrop for films and music videos. 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 a twinkle in the developer's eye. Whatever it becomes, it can never be more lovely than it is now.

Lis Watkins, Millennium Mills

Julie Bolus, Millennium Mills

Evelyn Rowland, Fire escape


James Hobbs, Millennium Mills



Our thanks to the Silvertown Partnership for inviting us. There are more images by the other artists on Nathan's blog, which follows this one.



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