Wednesday 13 May 2015

Urban Sketchers go to Silvertown (part 2)

Isabelle Laliberté, Millennium Mills

As James said in his post below, it's hard to put your finger on the appeal of places like Millennium Mills: a vast area of broken stone and glass, weeds, graffiti, and emptiness. Perhaps because they are modern-day ruins, if that isn't an oxymoron. Like visiting Rome for example; it's startling to come upon huge sections of a city that were so obviously important and full of life at one point, now abandoned and crumbling, but with an added shock value that rather than belonging to a distant bygone age, it has occurred within our own lifetimes - the Royal Victoria Docks only finally closed in 1981.

Nathan Brenville

Originally built in 1905, Millennium Mills was partially destroyed first by the infamous "Silvertown Explosion" of a munitions factory in the First World War, 1917, and then again in the Second World War, by German bombing. As you can just make out in my sketch above, the building was rebuilt both times - on the left in 1954, and on the right it says 1933. What attracted me to drawing it was that the building was now such a wreck - the company didn't really have much luck, did it?

Olha Pryymak, sketchbook pages

Sue Pownall, Powerful
Olha Pryymak, sketchbook pages

BBC "Ashes to Ashes" - silo D in the background

The area is not only popular with us sketchers and the location scouts for film and tv, but with "urban explorers", who are, I suppose, similar to urban sketchers but without the pencils, (and with a slightly more reckless attitude to going into places they're not supposed to go) - a quick Google reveals a wealth of photos from inside, on top of and around the Silvertown site that are well worth a look.

Isabelle Laliberté, Grain Silo D

Sue Pownall, Silo D

On the far side of the site, with a stretch of water separating it from the Mill, is an intriguing and large section of open land, which from what I can gather was approximately where the munitions factory was in 1917 before it caused London's biggest ever explosion. I suppose after that they must have rebuilt something on there, but you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd just left it, as rubble and rubbish lies strewn around all over the place, and not much else, except for the odd looking "Dome". Maybe it was supposed to echo the Millennium Dome (which can be seen in the distance) but at any rate it is the most recent addition to the landscape - used as a pop-up cinema during the Olympics.

Nathan Brenville, Weird Dome Thing
Capturing the changes at this site will be an interesting experience, and one I hope we can involve many more sketchers in over the next few years, getting different styles and perspectives as redevelopment continues. It seems to be a similar project to Kings Cross, which when I first arrived in London in 2001 struck me as a desolate, bleak, industrial shell of a place, but is now (rather successfully, I would say) completely regenerated. Seeing the redevelopment that's already occurred in the Silvertown area and the space (unusual in London) for new buildings, I'd say it's a safe bet that it will gradually become much more popular in future.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to miss MM a lot. As an Urban Explorer who visited the site on several occasions, I have to admit it still remains one of my favourite abandoned places. Definitely an iconic London building with an incredible atmosphere and great rooftop view. Lot of memories. It's sad to see it going but hopefully it will become something important in the future. Keep doing your great job, I love the sketches and it's great to see people interested in that part of London. I will keep coming back to look for updates :) Best of luck


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