A fascinating challenge this week ~ to share a photograph that signifies transitions and change, to explore the ways in which a single photograph can express time, while only showing us a small portion of any given moment.
I spotted this man building a sand sculpture at Gloucester Docks recently. It was to celebrate the Tall Ships festival, which was taking place over the weekend. He worked, oblivious to all around him, with patience and skill. It was wonderful to see his pile of sand change into a beautiful work of art. I was mesmerised.
I have written about Gloucester Docks before as it is one of my favourite places locally. The whole area signifies transitions and change to me. The wonderful old warehouses, which were once the thriving heart of business in the area are now recycled as accommodation for students, restaurants, museums, or offices.
The old Mariner’s Church in the background of my photo tells its own story of how the area has changed over time.
In Victorian times a visitor to Gloucester would have found the docks teeming with sailors from all over the world as well as British emigrants preparing to set off for a new life in North America.
Spanish seamen brought onions to Gloucester and sold them in the streets to local housewives. A local newspaper account in 1860 describes the many nationalities that could be seen and heard at the Docks:
‘Here we see a Frenchman from the rich vine districts of Brittany, an Italian from the fertile plantations around Palermo or a swarthy Negro escaped from the Slave States of America. These, with a few Americans and a sprinkling of Norwegians, Danes, Dutchmen and Germans, compose the motley crews of the arrivals in our port’.
In those days, seamen and bargees were distinctively dressed and there was a social barrier between them and other citizens, especially on Sundays when citizens would wear their Sunday best to go to church. It was decided by a local wealthy businessman that the mariners needed a chapel in which they could be welcomed regardless of language or dress. And so it was that the simple Mariners Chapel was built in 1848, primarily for the workers at Gloucester Docks and crews of vessels moored there.
The first chaplain, Rev James Hollins, must have been an inspirational man. He organised services in foreign languages when necessary, and used a portable organ for services on the quayside. There was a Sunday school for boatmen’s children. Religious tracts were given out in many languages, including Welsh, Hindustani and even Chinese. In its first five years, 2,000 copies of the Bible and over 14,000 leaflets in 12 different languages were distributed.
The local watermen and families were often uneducated and living very basic lives. Drunkenness and bad language were common social problems among them. In 1884, an old cheese warehouse with two flats was purchased nearby, for use as a meeting hall. Mariners church started up a coffee bar there, and gave reading and writing lessons. The hall also provided a place simply to relax.
Today this is where I take my granddaughter to a ‘mini-mariners’ playgroup. it is also where the Galley serves hot lunches every Friday to the local homeless community, or anyone needing help for whatever reason.
Mariners is a proprietary church, independent of the local diocese. It was set up specifically to meet the spiritual needs of the docks’ community. There was no dress code and no language or social barrier. Just a christian desire to help and support the community. Today this work continues.
Enjoy some of my photos from the tall ships weekend.
I had quite a nautical June as I also went to Bristol Quays on a day trip. The SS Great Britain is fully restored sitting proudly by pleasure boats, ferries and old warehouses now turned into luxury flats.
. “A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea”, written by Allan Cunningham, is one of the best British sea-songs, although written by a landsman.
A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea
A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.
“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.
There’s tempest in yon horn’d moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.