In previous blogposts I’ve described my love of water and written about days at the seaside, by rivers, or admiring springs and waterfalls and lakes that are special to me. I could be happy near any of them. Beside water I can relax and be at peace. I am often inspired to write by the sheer beauty and elemental power of water. But today I would like to bring canals and docks into the mix.
Being born near the great River Tyne, I have been fascinated from the earliest age by ships, bridges, and the industrial buildings that line the banks around docks, ports and quaysides. Of course many have now been lost to us through disrepair. Others have been restored as wonderful museums, like the Gloucester Waterways Museum, or art galleries like the Baltic Mill in Gateshead. Many have been converted into luxury homes and offices like Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames in London. But some have just aged gracefully, and stand majestically observing the changing world around them.
One such building, close to where I live, is the old ‘Llanthony Provender Mill’ or ‘Foster Brothers’ Oil and Cake Mill’ on Baker’s Quay. It faces the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, which is served by Gloucester Docks.
Opening in 1862, the 6 storey warehouse played an important role in the industrial development at the docks in the late 19th century. In fact it is listed by English Heritage because of its important place in Gloucester’s history. Originally, the mill crushed linseed and cottonseed, extracting the oil from the seeds and then forming the remainder into seed cakes for cattle feed. According to the civic society, the business remained in the hands of the Foster family for 4 generations, until 1945, when it was sold to West Midland Farmers as a storage and distribution depot. In the last two decades much of the area has been bought up by developers and some areas have been dramatically changed by the building of the shopping centre and the College on opposite sides of the canal. However, so much is unchanged, that the area has become a magnet for film makers who use Baker’s Quay as a film set.
Last year Tim Burton’s film, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, was filmed there. It starred Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter. It was an amazing sight with Tall Ships in the misty docks ~ very atmospheric. Sadly I was not invited to be an extra on this occasion, disappointing as they filmed on my birthday!
The warehouses at the docks are all built of red brick several storeys high. Inside there are wooden beams and cast iron pillars. Outside they look very impressive with lots of small windows covered with metal bars. Many of the warehouses still have faint painted signs showing their original dates, names and uses. They were mainly for storing grain or salt and had wooden loading bays facing the quay. Some have very impressive covered areas supported by pillars jutting out to the canal or quayside.
The docks area, the bridges, and the warehouses are utterly fascinating to me. I have delighted in taking my grandchildren over there by car, bus or train over the years, then going on boat trips down the canal to Sharpness. Thankfully I have taken lots of photos too as last weekend (3rd October) there was a dreadful fire which partially destroyed this wonderful historic building. The local people are devastated by the loss of this much loved building, and local photographers and artists have been sharing their thoughts and feelings.
One local artist, Claudia Araceli was drawn to go over to the docks and paint that very building on the day that it was destroyed. She was there until early evening completing a beautiful painting before leaving at 6.45pm. The fire caught hold at 9pm and took fire crews all night to extinguish.
The photos at the top of this post show before and after the fire. One was taken a couple of years ago when I took my grandchildren on a boat trip along the canal. The other was taken this week after the fire. Here is Claudia’s stupendous and serendipitous painting
The gallery below is a general view of the Gloucester Docks area and some of the boats and buildings there.
Rhyme first published in 1844
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.