Updated: Mar 25
There were passages like these everywhere along the Thames waterfront, downstream from London’s Tower Bridge on both sides of the river. Take yourself on a walk through Wapping and Limehouse today and you’ll see some still, running from cobbled streets down through giant brick warehouses to the wharves. Built to store everything that London once traded with its empire, nowadays they’re refitted as apartment blocks and office spaces with spectacular views of the river; spruce, very liveable and a hop on a bicycle to the City. You might see a cruise ship glide by to pass under the raised bascule bridge, but otherwise the endless freighters and barges lining the docksides are gone for good - to the container terminals way downriver.
The 19th century waterfront - where Conrad sets the beginning of Heart of Darkness (source story for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) could hardly have been more different. Smart London was living in the west, the eastern docklands were definitely the wrong side of the tracks, and by night they were just plain scary.
1940, of course, brought a devastating blitz of high explosive and fire-bombing along both river shores. 400,000 tons of timber went to ashes in a night. Raw rubber burned and blotted out the sky. In 1947 - when SHAMUS DUST is set - the waterfronts still lay in ruins. Just the kind of place, in fact, where a marked man could take two in the chest and float off downstream on the tide. Today, the same stretch of waterside is unrecognizable, peppered with bars and eateries, shopping and museums. Go check it out. As the shamus says, Some things get better after all.