19 March 2016
Tower Hamlets has often been recognised for its richness in cultural diversity; the home of all walks of life.
As a born Eastender, I have witnessed many changes over the years as scruffy landmarks become the upmarket appeal. As the poorer parts of the borough develop, so too do we become subject to cultural change as new developments arise and social housing falls.
It was Tuesday 8th March 2016. I had been celebrating my mums 81st Birthday with cups of tea and tales about the Second World War. My mum had just turned 8 years old when she escaped her death by minutes in the 1943 Bethnal Green Tube Shelter Disaster. It made me realize that her closeness to death could have resulted in me never being born. It was following this that I felt the need for some space to breathe, so I took a stroll through Meath Gardens, a small detour from my mum's home in Stepney to mine in Bethnal Green.
To be fair, I have never really been keen for Urban’ish London Photography, but probably never really given it a thought, but since signing up to the ‘Breathing London’ project I feel I am taking rise to a new platform, and have already been inspired by some of the photographs I have seen so far. Mindful of this I had already placed my Fuji Compact in my bag that day. The captions written beneath each photo formulated a poem as I walked.
The first photograph is probably a greater reflection of my usual style; my love of nature, and the pleasure I get from escaping London life with its concrete walls. Here just venturing out of my comfort zone, and taking a peek at the landmark ahead of me, attempting to venture into a more urban surround.
The building itself is actually the last of the new development in the area. If you walk round to the back you will see it still unfinished as it overlooks the canal (Information sourced: credit to Friends of Meath Gardens)
I then venture out from behind this comforting tree, as if allowing myself to breathe in the whole space around me. I looked for a spot to take a more open shot, and my gaze landed on this block. I admired the garden surround as I wondered “Who hides behind these walls?” “And what do they call them now?”
The block itself is indeed still ‘social housing’ and you can just about see the edge of the children’s playground on the right. The garden of daffodils that spring between the trees are actually planted by the community themselves. (Information sourced: credit to Friends of Meath Gardens)
I stroll further and glance over to this slippery slide, and I began to notice how the shapes and tones compliment the building. I was trying to recall what was there before and whether the locals moved away.
Meath Gardens was formerly Victoria Park Cemetery, mostly a burial of children who lived and died in the harrowing conditions of 19th century eastend life. This new development, namely ‘Meath Crescent’ went up in 2005 and is a mix of social housing and private apartments. (Information sourced: credit to Friends of Meath Gardens)
My mind runs riot and creates a story as I snap away. I feel like I am breathing in death, the land escapes my feet as I prop myself down, crawling on elbows and tummy as I take my next shot. Of course I did not know then, that so much death lies beneath this ground.
The log used to be a very large leaning Black Poplar Hybrid and sadly the council over pollarded it and it died. This is all that is left of it now. Apparently there is also a grave stone near the trunk which belongs to an aboriginal cricketer who contracted tuberculosis whilst here on his first cricket tour to England and a nearby tree has been planted as a memorial. (Information sourced: credit to Friends of Meath Gardens).
Before venturing across a bridge to the other side, I turned to lean against the log, and tried to work out which trees would create the best frame for the distant blue building inn the next shot.
The building itself went up about 10 years ago when the new developments were built and the whole park was refurbished. The blue building is the Children’s centre and nursery playgroup. (Information sourced: credit to Friends of Meath Gardens).
Meath Gardens is a nice cut through to Mile End Park, which runs alongside Regents Canal, the home to many newbie’s, and an attraction for tourists. In the photo above on the right you can see ‘Colosseum Apartments’ so those living there get the benefit of both worlds; the view of Regents Canal, and the view of Meath Gardens (behind). I took that photo just after crossing Meath Bridge. The daffodils were facing away and blowing frantically in the wind, which would have distorted the image if I zoomed in tight, so I decided to keep them further away.
I finally finished my walk by taking a breather at the lake in front of the Ecology Pavilion, just before heading up onto Twig Folly Bridge to make my way home.
Being part of the Breathing London Project can really encourage you to open your eyes, as well as your heart. It is only the beginning for me, and already I am excited by this whole new journey that is starting to unfold. Since going on this walk and sharing my experience of ‘Breathing London’ I have become much more engaged and integrated with the neighbouring spaces around. Since sharing my photo’s and then being asked by RPS to write this blog I got in touch with Friends of Meath Gardens to source the factual information that I have contributed above. I have also learnt that the subjective nature of my experience was not so far from the objective truth.
"Breathing Spaces, peering through life, Urban opens the eye.
Hiding behind the walls of flats, the posh call these apartments.
The locals slipped the net, their life becomes a slippery slide.
The artsy place a sculpture, a piece of nature that is left to die.
Death crumbles and plants the seed for the next life,
You watch the changes as you cross the other side.
Clumsy Daffodils become the foreground for this newbie Urban London life.
You breathe and know you are alive."
(Text, Images and Poem: Beverley Poynter, March 2016)