Canals, basins, docks – and a fish on a bicycle

Last week we spent a few days in London, on our first holiday in over two years. We were only there for two and a half days but managed to cram in masses of exploring, and seemed to gravitate towards watery places without really trying.

First on the list, and not particularly watery, was the Museum of the Home in Hoxton, newly re-open after major refurbishment. This was formerly known as the Geffrye Museum, but has been distancing itself from that name as the man who established the alms houses the museum is based in had strong links to the slave trade. New name, new entrance direct from the train station, but the museum is much the same as it was – a fascinating look at the development of the English middle-class home down the centuries.

After a good mooch round we caught trains and tubes back to Kings Cross and explored the area at the back of the station, which used to be a no-go wasteland but is now covered in office blocks, shops, cafes, and landscaped gardens including water features and trees. Behind that is an area we’d never visited before – Coal Drops Yard, a former wharf on the Regents Canal handling coal for the barges. It’s been heavily redeveloped/gentrified with yet more shops, restaurants and arty venues and looks amazing, but the prices were rather astronomical.

On the second day we headed for Canary Wharf (main photo) to see the Docklands Museum. This is based in some of the original sugar warehouses of the West India Docks, built in 1802. The museum focuses on the history of the London docks and the East End in general, with big displays on trade, life as a dock worker, the docks during World War II, and the history (often financially uncertain) of the area’s redevelopment after the war.

After that we discovered the East India Docks basin, a pleasant open space around a large basin with lock gates onto the River Thames. From here there are terrific views up, down and across the river to the Millennium Dome (O2 Arena).

Finally we walked through to Trinity Buoy Wharf, a little further along the banks of the Thames. I first saw this on The Great British Sewing Bee and knew it had links to both Trinity House (the organisation that runs lighthouses in Britain) and the famous scientist Michael Faraday. Sure enough, we found the wharf and its buildings, which include a small experimental lighthouse where different lighting systems were tried out. Nowadays it’s another arts/culture hub with lots of studios and arty businesses, and there are weird industrial heritage/street art sculptures everywhere you look – including this wonderful fish on a bicycle!

There’s also what may be the world’s smallest museum, based quite literally in a garden shed which houses books, artefacts and equipment used by Michael Faraday in his scientific experiments. The surrounding area is being heavily redeveloped into apartment blocks, so we were glad we saw it before the atmosphere changes forever.

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