I. Museum of London Docklands Objects
I felt an overwhelming desire to explore as I entered the Museum of London Docklands knowing that it holds the most fundamental keys to access the history of London’s River Thames and Docklands. Among all the displays and exhibitions, “New Port New City” and “London, Sugar and Slavery” are the ones that really fascinated me.
1. Exhibition: New Port New City 1945 – present
From the primitive upriver docks to the busiest port in the world, “New Port New City” exhibits the changes that transformed this part of East London in over 60 years.
“Decline and regeneration, as the Docklands reinvented itself for a new century.”
1960s and 1970s marked a turning point in the London Docklands’s regeneration history. As containerization started to take place, small docks such as West India, Millwall and East India were simply too small for the modern container-ships, which required a deepwater port to park and a large space for unit-loading. Construction of new dock extension began in 1963 and by late 1960s, Tilbury had became the leading container port in the world. Considering the containerization as one of the main roles in the regeneration, making London Docklands once the biggest port in the world, ‘container ships’ were my choice of key subject of “New Port New City” exhibition.
Key subject: MV Jervis Bay
Type: container ship
Date built: 1970
Owner: Overseas Containers Ltd, London
MV Jervis Bay
Three OCL container ships Discovery Bay, Flinders Bay and MV Jervis Bay at Tilbury Docks
An aerial view of Tilbury Docks in the late 1960s
2. Exhibition: London, Sugar & Slavery
“We hope that the gallery will help Londoners from all
backgrounds understand their own heritage and identity
better. People may find it uncomfortable, but to grasp this
is to begin to understand many facets of society today,
including attitudes towards race and the melding of British,
African and Caribbean cultures.” – David Spence, Director of Museum in Docklands
“London, Sugar and Slavery” is my favorite exhibition among many other exhibitions that I’ve ever been to. Approaching the disturbing subject of slavery, the thought-revoking gallery manages to reveal the history of the horrific slave trade in London and at the same time shaping the future generation’s appreciation of the reason why London is such a multicultural city as it is today.
Sugar once represented the noble wealth. Meanwhile, the design of an enslaved African kneeling in chains beside a sugar cane tree depicts the evils of the slave trade the way that the figure was seen to be pleading. Hence, putting them together in one object, as in this case, a sugar bowl, creates such a strong image that speaks profoundly about the inhumanity of enslavement.
Key subject: The Abolition sugar bowl
Date created: about 1825
Designer: Josiah Wedgwood
The image of the enslaved African kneeling in chains designed by Josiah Wedgewood became a logo for the abolitionist campaign in the 1780s.
Another interesting display is “The Price of Sweetness” which was inspired by Wedgewood sugar bowl. It features hand-drawing designs created as Abolition merchandise. The set that currently displayed at the Museum of London Docklands was created by the Elders group from the African and Caribbean Voices Association in Stratford. This was a Women-only group who worked with Historian Angelina Osborne and Ceramicist Licy Clayden to create these beautifully colourful pieces.
“Am I not a Man and a Brother?”
“Am I not a Woman and a Sister?”
Printed texts on The Price of Sweetness other displays :
“Ban slavery. It’s unsavoury.Think about the slave’s bravery.”
” Sugar is sweet and people should be sweet too.”
” Sugar is sweet, so is equality – West India Sugar.”
“Why make them suffer for your needs?”
“It’s unfair to be a slave in a free world.”
“Sugar is a shameful game with a bittersweet name.”
“You can put a price on sugar but not on somebody’s life.”
“Everybody is equal. Everybody’s people.”
II. Docklands Brompton Bike Tour
While the Museum objects provided me with a wide horizon of knowledge, what I found at the river banks rather left me with much confusion and curiosity than a crystal clear answer about the origin of things that I was supposed to look for.
Objects: Fragments at Thames Bank