Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks

Surrey Docks entrance, Rotherhithe St, 1984

It’s always exciting when I get the first copy of a printed book of my photographs delivered, and I ripped open the parcel and was pleased to find that as usual Blurb had made a decent job of ‘Rotherhithe & Surrey Docks: 1975-85‘, the fourth in my series on London Docklands.

Of course I’d seen it all before, when I’d spent days scanning and retouching the images, and then selecting and putting them in some kind of order (not an easy task) and designing and preparing the book using InDesign. Being the fourth in the series, much of the design had already been done for the previous volumes, though there are some minor tweaks. And, no matter how many times you check, there are always some minor errors that you miss., though in this case nothing that I feel really needs a reprint to correct.

The printing of the black and white images is as usual good, though not perfect, and certainly not as good as with the PDF version, which I recommend. As with my other recent works, this book is published as a digital version, ISBN 978-1-909363-12-0, downloadable from Blurb, with the print version available for those who would like a convenient hard-copy of the PDF. You can also view the whole book in the preview on the Blurb page.  The PDF costs £4.99 and a printed copy will currently cost £31 plus postage. Incidentally buying the PDF also gives you a licence to print out a single copy of any (or all!) of the 90 or so pages of the book, though to print the whole book at comparable quality to the print version on my home printer would cost me around £70.

The scans for the book were mainly made with a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro scanner – one of the best film scanners ever made, particularly when fitted with a purpose made light diffuser and specially machined holders to ensure flatness across the whole negative. Some of the scans needed considerable retouching in Photoshop, mainly because of some insect infestation of the negatives, but also in some cases because of uneven development. The scans were converted to high-quality CMYK files using Photoshop, and saved with the Blurb supplied ICC profile. Black and white images tend to be printed slightly off-neutral and the images were given a slightly warm tone which I’ve always preferred for my work.

The printed copy I have is a good match to my originals (and the PDF), though prints are always a little duller, but seem very close to neutral. But as this is ‘print on demand’ there can be small copy to copy differences. I use Blurb’s premium lustre paper which prints black and white better than the standard, and the print quality is quite acceptable. Of course it doesn’t match the superb quality of the duotones and tritones of some photographic books, but is generally good enough.

When I first cycled through the area in 1976 I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but then you could walk down the ventilation shafts to go under the river in the Rotherhithe tunnel. By the time I took the photograph at the top of this post in 1984 they were locked, presumably to discourage people using the crossing, though you can still walk or cycle through the tunnel from the vehicle entrances although at some risk to your health.

Later I went back on foot, walking over the footbridge across the entrance to South Dock, next to which was then the Surrey Docks Farm, one of several ‘city farms’ across London. I took several pictures of a young girl on a bicycle as she went across the lock gates to the farm. Some years later on another visit to the area I was mystified, as both the farm and the footbridge had moved to different locations in the area.

In 1984 I spent a couple of days wandering the area and taking pictures, including a little to my surprise a wharf still handling timber, which used to be the main business in the Surrey Docks, where there were once large ponds in which it was stored, as well as huge open timber sheds, some of which were still around, standing empty. Some of the timber would then be taken on barges up Bow Creek to timber yards on the Lea Navigation to be sawn up.

The redevelopment of the area had been started by the London Borough of Southwark and the Greater London Council, but progress had been slow, partly because they were kept short of money. The Conservatives once Mrs Thatcher had come to power saw docklands as a great opportunity for developers (and many Conservatives were developers or invested in them) to make money and set up the London Docklands Development Corporation 1n 1981 to speed up the regeneration and pour public subsidies into private pockets.

While the results have not been entirely disastrous for the area, the developments have not served the people who were living in the area as well as they might.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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