Saturday, January 30, 2016

Notes from South Dock consultation (St George’s Wharf) 30th January 2016

More planning stuff.  I've written up my notes from this morning's planning meeting re the St George's Wharf development at South Dock at:

I hope you enjoy reading my notes rather more than I enjoyed writing them, but I suspect not :-)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Docklands History Group 5th Annual Conference in May

Just in case it’s of interest here are the details for the Docklands History Group 5th Annual Conference on May 7th 2016.  This year's theme is "Before The Docks - London River and Port in the 18th Century." 

I haven’t attended one before (I wasn't actually aware that there was an annual conference) but I am planning to go to this year's.

Introductory details:

Programme and ticket bookings on the EventBrite page:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

South Dock & Surrounding Facebook page

For those of you who live in the vicinity of South Dock, there's a Facebook page that is aiming to become a central information resource for local people on the downriver (eastern) side of Rotherhithe peninsula. 

At the moment the majority of posts are understandably about planning issues (the hugely controversial St George's Wharf development) but the intention is to include anything that may be of local interest.  Keeping up with local matters is never easy, so pages like this are always very welcome.  You can find it at:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Upcoming consultation workshop for the South Dock Marina

The latest consultation workshop for the South Dock Marina is on 30th January - you must have a ticket .

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Walking Brunel’s Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping (26th May 2014)

A great post on the "A London Inheritance" website about a walk through the Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping can be found at

Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel, built after 18 years of problems, was finally opened for pedestrian traffic in 1843, and was eventually converted for rail in the 1865.  To see a detailed history of the Thames Tunnel, with images from the period of its build, see my earlier post

The tunnel is in constant use for the London Overground but was opened for a single weekend back in 2014, and I've never forgiven myself for missing it.  There have been a number of accounts of it by people who attended, but this has some particularly good photographs, of which the one below is particularly great, showing Brunel's original arches.. 

Original arches from Sir Marc Brunel's
Thames Tunnel. 
Copyright: A London Inheritance website.

Planning and development issues - a new home

I've moved planning issues to a new home, a dedicated blog called "trackerzone" (a name that is explained over there, but has nothing at all to do with planning).  All the local history and other posts were getting completely lost in the general torrent of planning issues, so it seemed like time for a change. I figured that for people interested in local history it would be frustrating to wade through planning posts, and for people interested in planning, local history posts would be distracting, so I've separated them out.

I will continue to let people know where when there are new planning updates on the other blog, but I will no longer post the full contents here. 

I have copied a year's worth of planning posts from this blog over there (the formatting is still a bit odd on the older posts, but all the content is there and the formatting will be sorted soon)

You will find four new posts on the new blog, which have not been posted here, as follows.

Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Community Council Agenda 27th January 2016 (with a link to the agenda and minutes of the last meeting)
Letter from Southwark Council re location for new Leisure Centre (with photographs of the letter)

Canada Water Area Action Plan Newsletter February 2016 (with scans of the newsletter)

Leisure Centre to be discussed at Community Council Meeting – Can you attend?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Prince of Orange public house, Lower Road, Rotherhithe

The Prince of Orange in 2016
Located at the corner of 118 Lower Road and Orange Place (SE16 2UH), immediately opposite Hoath Place, is an attractive building of yellow stock and red brick that was once a pub, and has since been converted into apartments.

The pub was named for the heir to the Dutch throne, William, the Prince of Orange (6 December 1792 – 17 March 1849) who became King William II of the Netherlands in 1840.  Prior to inheriting the throne he had been a key player in the Napoleonic Wars, serving with the British Army from 1811 and becoming Aide de Camp to the Pince Regent in 1812, before being promoted to Major General in 1813, then to Lieutenant Colonel and then General.  He fought at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June 1815, where he was wounded   He was affectionately known by the Duke of Wellington's staff as "Slender Billy."   Although it doesn't have much to do with this story, a nice little factoid is that the Prince of Orange once travelled by train from London Bridge to Greenwich through Bermondsey, on the viaduct designed by Colonel George Landmann, shortly before the London and Greenwich Railway opened in 1836. 

The Prince of Orange pub was opened in 1859 as a beer house, and the building is clearly Victorian.  Stuart Rankin (Walk C) says that Orange Place appears in Parish Registers in 1810, so it looks as though the pub might have been named for the street rather than the more usual practice of naming a road after a pub.  The same thing happened with Trinity Church in Rotherhithe's Downtown, where the church was named after Trinity Street, on which it was built in the mid 1800s.  The prince, however, was only 17 in 1810, so the matter remains unclear.  The pub gained its full licensed status in 1874.  Orange Place was marked on the 1868 Ordnance Survey map, and terminated where it met Southwark Park. Immediately to the east of the pub was a short, narrow road which is not provided with a name on the 1868 map, but was probably built at the same time as the pub for deliveries.  The road opposite, now Hoath Place, was Portland Place at that time, and both were flanked by terraced housing, as was Lower Road.  By 1894 the service road for the pub had been replaced by a narrow building on the other side of which a church was established (I haven't figured out which one but it is now no longer there), Portland Place was now Hothfield Place, and tram rails had been laid along Lower Road, with a tram service passing in front of the pub. 

Its landlord for some of the 1920s was Albert Matthew Mimms who remained until he died in 1933.  A photograph of the funeral taken by the funeral director shows the cortège outside the pub (see photograph to the left). 

The Prince of Orange in the 70s or early 80s
The photograph at the end of the post shows it as it was, probably in the 1970s (there's a Leyland Princess on the forecourt, which were produced from 1975-1981, and were not the most durable of vehicles!).  It was well known in the mid 1970s and 80s for being a popular live jazz venue, and amongst those who played there were (the links go to external sites) a teenage Jools Holland, the band Loose Tubes, who had their first gig at the Prince of Orange in 1984 (and whose 30th anniversary at Ronnie Scott's), Andy Graham, Chris Barber's Jazz and Blues Band, The Big Beer Band, and the short-lived but endearingly named Whip the Minister.  For reasons unknown, perhaps a change in musical preferences amongst the surrounding population, it ceased to be popular and although it revived briefly as a gay venue in the 90s, it eventually closed.

Fortunately, it was converted into apartments, in the late 1990s, its name changed to Prince of Orange Court, and the conversion was very sympathetic to the exterior architecture, which was restored, retains the Prince of Orange title that was built into it, and looks terrific.  The second floor was extended at the rear of the building to provide additional residential space, and this too was done very sympathetically, completely in keeping with the architecture of the reset of the building.

The Big Beer Band, playing at the pub before its
closure in the 90s.  Photograph from The Big Beer Band website

One of the apartment conversions

Planning update 20th January 2016

This post has now been copied to my new planning and development blog, trackerzone, and can be found at:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Friday, January 15, 2016

HMS Edinburgh - built by Samuel and Daniel Brent, Rotherhithe, 1811

A view of the Commercial Docks in 1813 by William Daniell, two years after Edinburgh was built. 
A ship enters the lock and to the left and right of the lock you can see Greenland South and North shipyards,
both with ships in dock (click to expand).

In the 1800s Rotherhithe produced some superb ships (as well as one or two lemons), mainly sail-powered wooden warships as well as a smaller number of tea clippers and paddle steamers.  Some of the ships that began their lives as wooden ships were later converted to steam, either paddle or screw, and this was the destiny of HMS Edinburgh, which was built in 1811 by Samuel and Daniel Brent  in Rotherhithe.  The Brents had a long and successful history of boat building in Rotherhithe for two generations, their names first linked with that of two generations of Randalls, but on the suicide of John Randall, Samuel and Daniel Brent took over the business variously as S+D Brent and Brent and Co. Messers Brent. Finally, when Samuel died, Daniel Brent carried on alone.  Samuel and Daniel Brent operated out of operated out of Greenland Dock North and South shipyards in Rotherhithe between 1805 and 1819.  They had also operated out of Nelson Dock but gave this up in 1810.   

HMS Asia, another Vengeur-class warship, which
gives a good idea of how Edinburgh will have looked
at the time of her launch (image sourced from Wikipedia)
HMS Edinburgh was ordered in 1807 and was launched on 26th January 1811. It is not recorded which of the two Greenland Dock yards she was built at, Greenland North or South, both flanking Greenland Dock's lock entrance as shown in the William Daniell painting above.  The painting also shows the Commercial Docks and, beyond, the Grand Surrey Canal with a very busy Thames beyond it, and St Paul's visible in the far distance.  Also launched in 1811 by the Brent brothers was the East Indiaman Marquis of Huntley, so both North and South docks were clearly occupied simultaneously during the construction of the two ships, a profitable situation at a time when traditional ship building was in decline.  Edinburgh herself earned the Brents £57,000 (£1,935,720 in today's currency according to the National Archives Currency Converter).  She then had to be fitted out elsewhere with masts, rigging, guns and other fittings at the cost of £26,032 (£884,046). 

HMS Edinburgh was a third rate Vengeur-class ship of the line, 1772 tons, 176ft long, 47ft 6in beam and 21st deep with a wooden hull, 74 guns and a ship's company of 600.  There were more Vengeur-class ships built during this period than any other class of warship (around 40 of them), and most of them were built in private rather than naval shipyards.  New warship designs were usually built to the design of an individual surveyor, but the Vengeur-class (also occasionally referred to as the Hogue-class) were designed by committee.  This is thanks to the Admiralty which, faced with two competing designs for a 3rd rate ship of the line, decided not to opt for either but to direct all its naval surveyors to come up with a new 3rd rate design between them. They decided that the Surveyors of the Navy "should consider together, and prepare a draught which will embrace the qualities pointed out by their Lordships letter as so desirable to be attained and at the same time keep down the increased expense" (quoted in Lavery). The result became colloquially known as the Surveyors' class.  Unfortunately for the Admiralty's requirement for keeping down expenses, the need to send them to private yards for construction made them rather more expensive than the Admiralty had planned for.  In spite of the number produced, they soon became somewhat unpopular.  One report describes Edinburgh, for example in the following terms:  "steers bad, wears very slow, but stays quick."  As Lavery says, the design was not a disaster but certainly failed to meet up to the expectations of the Admiralty as well as the captains who were given command of the Surveyors' class ships.

Throughout her career Edinburgh was commanded by a number of different captains.  Under her first command she went to the Mediterranean between 1811 and 12, was in the Gulf of Spezia in 1813 and then Anzi in the same year, and was laid up in Portsmouth a year after.  It is unclear where she was sent in the following two decades, but in 1833 she was again in the Mediterranean. 
Scheduled for conversion to steam, she was described by The Times, again in less than flattering terms:
Edinburgh, 72.  This old ship, which is being prepared to going into the hands of Mr White, of Cowes, to be fitted with a screw propeller, as a block ship or floating battery, is nearly ready.  She is fit for no other purpose, although she has had a good deal of service, being remarkable as a very dull sailer."

Hogue, after she was converted to a Blenheim-class
screw steamer.  Edinburgh will have looked very similar.
(Image sourced from Wikipedia)
In 1846, already 41 years old, she went to Portsmouth naval base for conversion to a Blenheim-class steam ship with modern screw propellers (as opposed to paddles, which had been the usual form of propulsion for earlier steam warships (see, for example, the warship Karteria, also built by the Brent brothers).  The conversion, which reduced her guns to 60, was completed in 1852.  The cost of the conversion was an eye-watering £65,000.00 (£2,866,500 today).

In her new guise, she went back into service as a steam guard-ship, together with Blenheim, Hogue and Ajax, which were also old Vengeur-class sailing ships that were converted for this new role. This was a new concept in the navy.  All four were reduced to one deck, and fitted with a 450hp engine capable of up to 8.9 knots, as well as light rigging for an alternative source of power.  These ships are often described as floating batteries. The initial intention was to use them for coastal defence but they saw action in foreign seas as well.

"The Baltic Fleet Leaving Spithead," showing Edinburgh
at far left.  Illustrated London News (Supplement)
for March 18th 1854.
All four of the original guard-ships saw action in the Baltic Campaign of 1854 and 1855 during the Crimean War, and are immortalized in the famous Illustrated London News illustration "The Baltic Fleet Leaving Spithead" published on March 18th 1854.  Two other Rotherhithe-built ships also served in the Crimean War - Jackdaw and Hind, both screw steamers, which were commissioned from John Jenkins Thomson specially for the war.  Edinburgh was part of the 1853 fleet review prior to departure for the Baltic, the first time that screw steamers had been included in a fleet review, and she was present at the 1856 fleet review at Spithead on her return to England.

She was a guard-ship at Sheerness later in 1856 and was with the Coast Guard in 1858. 

was broken up by Castle and Beech at Charlton on the Thames in 1866, at the venerable age of 55.

Main sources:

Lavery, Brian (2003) The Ship of the Line - Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. Conway Maritime Press.
Winfield, Rif (2008) British Warships in the Age of Sail. 1793 - 1817. Seaforth Publishing
Rankin, Stuart (1997). Shipbuilding in Rotherhithe - Greenland Dock and Barnard's Wharf. Rotherhithe Local History Paper No.3
Peter Davis

Thursday, January 14, 2016

An excellent visit to the "Winter Lights" festival (Canary Wharf 11th-22nd January 2016)

One tube stop away from Canada Water or one hop on the Thames Clipper from Greenland Pier or the Hilton - don't miss the opportunity to visit the Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf.  And it's all free!

I rarely get the opportunity to bang on about modern art on this blog, but thanks to the organizers of the Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf, the opportunity has presented itself.

Do you actually have to be interested in art to enjoy the Winter Lights festival?  No, of course not.  The whole point is to involve everyone, no matter what their interests.  The whole experience is terrific, enjoyable,  fun.  I visited on Monday evening and again today with a friend, and the place was full of people of all ages and descriptions thoroughly enjoying the 18 spectacles.  On Monday a small minority had vast cameras mounted on tripods (probably from the press) but most on Monday and all on Thursday were clicking with ordinary cameras and camera-phones and everyone was fascinated, with a lot having fun with the interactive installations.

The key to enjoyment is simple - it's completely free of charge, so print off the map from the Winter Lights website, go when it's dark (which turned out to be 5pm this week), wrap up warm and take a brolly, because most of it is outdoors. It's probably best to read the online brochure before you go unless, like me, you are intending to go twice.  If you are only going once and you don't read the brochure you will miss some of the fun because there are no information boards at the installation and it does help to know how some of them are supposed to work, particularly the interactive ones.  And then simply take some time at each installation to engage with the luminous shapes, the vibrant, fluid colours, and to play with the installations where play is both expected and encouraged.  It's lovely.  And Canary Wharf at night is a fabulous light-show in it's own right.  What's not to enjoy?

If you are going by tube, be aware that Canary Wharf is chaos on the return leg to Surrey Quays on weekdays.  I arrived at about 5.15 and left at about 7.30 on Monday and about 6.45 on Thursday.  the latter was bedlam, with people queuing to get on the Jubilee Line heading west.  I got on the eastbound, hopped off at North Greenwich, where there were no queues, and came back to Canada Water.  I'd have taken the Thames Clipper home if I'd realized.

I've described my own take on each of the 18 installations below, accompanied by photographs from my visit on Monday.  For those who are interested in the background to the incorporation of artificial light into art, read on for an ultra-short beginner's guide.  It's a piece of pure self-indulgence so if you just want to get an idea of what you're likely to see, just skip ahead to the Winter Lights photographs to see what's on on display at Canary Wharf until the 22nd.

You can click on any of the photographs below to see the bigger image.

Light in Art History

László Moholy-Nagy's "Light-Space Modulator,"
first displayed in 1930
(Photo from the socks-studio website)

Light is essential to all art, of course.  Artists like J.M.W. Turner, whose Fighting Temeraire depicted a romanticized view of the old Trafalgar veteran being towed down to Rotherhithe for breaking up used light to create specific moods, ideas and sensations.  Only slightly later, the Impressionists consciously exploited light in its various forms as a fundamental belief about the re-interpretation art, often painting outdoors rather than in studios, and capturing a sense of movement, transience and energy through different approaches to lighting scenes and people.  Even landscapes and waterscapes, essentially captured like snapshots of time, are imbued with ideas about the immutability of weather effects that contain a sense of endless combinations of shifting clouds, multi-coloured skies, sunshine, dappled light and impermanence.  In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, as art exploded in various directions, concepts of light, movement and three-dimensional rendering of images were incorporated into abstract art. 

Naum Gabo's beautiful
"Linear Construction in Space"

Widespread electric lighting from the late 19th Century onwards gave rise to new concepts of reality.  There was no longer a dichotomy between the light of day and darkness of light.  As new technologies drove light ever higher and brighter in the form of sky-scrapers, and the world adjusted to a world defined by a vast new range of architectural possibilities, light became incorporated into a much broader range of ideas about art, space and the potential of combining the values of traditional art with the vast multi-faceted possibilities presented by modern architecture.

Possibly the first piece of art that was explicitly designed as an installation that manipulated light to create its impact was László Moholy-Nagy's Light-Space Modulator, first displayed in 1930.  It combined metal and glass, arranged on a circular rotating base, and employed white and coloured light to shift its form and create shadows that extended its reach beyond the purely material. He recognized that light had kinetic properties, that art could actually move, transform and reinvent itself every time it shifted even slightly.   Only a little later, the stunningly ethereal and multi-planed sculptures of Constructivist and Bauhaus member Naum Gabo incorporated ambient lighting into his designs, exploiting light to define sharp edges and fragile spidery networks.  The works of artists like Moholy-Nagy, Gabo influenced others who also explored the properties of light in their art like Zdenek Pešánek and Thomas Wilfred, and photographers Barbara Morgan and Andreas Feininger.

Connected approaches, 1987
by Paulo Scirpa, from the
creatorsproject website.
These experiments eventually gave rise to highly focussed approaches with 2-D and 3-D imaging, like Op Art, a clearly defined movement that used optical illusions to explored the kinetic relationship between dark and light in painting and sculpture, some of which look remarkably similar to light works - for example Alberto Biasi.  1960s Pop Art, with its focus on the portrayal of popular culture and commercial appropriation of art, absorbed neon lighting and neon colouring into its 2-dimensional repertoire, but only rarely explored the nature of light as a malleable entity in its own right.  However, some Pop Art artists do stand out, including Billy Apple and Keith Sonnier, and emerging from Pop Art Paul Scirpa has continued to use 3-D light creations to explore the concept of infinity, drawing viewers into a spatial experience of light, colour and depth, and producing some remarkable pieces. At the other end of the artistic continuum of the 1960s and 70s was the Conceptual Art movement, which was both self-absorbed and often somewhat reductionist, exploring the nature of art itself, proposing that ideas are more important than objects and often using real-world items to create installations that move art beyond the gallery.  Within this broad range of approaches, Joseph Kosuth and Stephen Antonakos used artificial light as one of many media to develop their ideas to give conceptual art a similar status to more traditional forms of painting and sculpture.

"One Hundred Live and Die"
by Bruce Nauman, 1984
There has been no movement that has dedicated itself to light as a specific medium, but in the 1960s, some of the artists often described as the California Light and Space movement explored light as a medium. It has to be said that some of the artists that are lumped into the movement strenuously resisted (and still resist) the attempts to pigeon-hole them into a group or movement of any sort.  Still, there's a common theme between many of  their works at this time, with an interest in combining light with volume and space, sometimes at significant scales, to create sensory experiences.  Sometimes their work was based on natural light, sometimes artificial, sometimes it was contained within objects and at other times it was architectural in its ambition.  James Turrell is the main name associated with the use of light in the group, but others, like Doug Wheeler and Bruce Nauman, for example, also spent explored light as a medium.   In 2012 a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sand Diego exhibited many of the Californian artists identified with the movement. 

Arik Levy's "D-Day: From primitive to virtual," 2005
Photo from Arik Levy Studios website.
Today, artificial light is often incorporated into works of art, or is the subject of the whole concept of a piece or installation.  A number of artists exhibiting at the world's top museums are exploring concepts using 3-dimensional light configurations.  See, for example, installations at the Centre Georges Pompidou:  François Morellet (who exhibited at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, 2011), Bryan McCormack (whose work was incorporated into the Pompidou Centre's architecture in 2011), Yaacov Agamand (Rainbow Installation), and Arik Levy (whose 2006 piece "D-Day: From primitive to virtual" is in the museum's collections).  Other well-known and often-exhibited artists are Dan Flavin, Hans Kotter, Mark Handforth and Eric Staller.  In 2001 Martin Creed won the Turner Prize for The Lights Going On and Off.

Light Show, Hayward Gallery, 2013
Artificial light continues to be a major feature of modern approaches to art.  In 2013 an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London presented light objects and installations with a view to giving the public chance to investigate this often unfamiliar medium of communication.  Last year, 2015,  was the International Year of Light and it was good to see that on their website they talked not only about technology and commerce, but about the artistic value of light as well.  Today light installations are becoming increasingly popular and accessible.  Some light works are specifically designed to be seen indoors and to be incorporated into museum and gallery displays.  Others are intended exclusively for the outdoor environment, sometimes rural, sometimes urban. Outdoor festivals of light are becoming regular features in some cities.  Some festivals specialize in projecting images onto buildings, others are stand-alone installations, some are indoors, some outside.  Some are to be looked at, some respond to music, others incorporate voices, sound, smoke, and other audio-visual devices. Still others rely on the participation of individuals to make them come to life.  Some are intended to provoke serious contemplation; others are fun.  Nearly all of them explore the relationship between space, light, motion and people (either as spectators or participants).  One website nominated its 10 favourite light installations of all time, a truly vibrant selection.

Fantastic Planet by Amanda Parer. 
(On the map no.18, in Westferry Garden)

The Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf 2016

Nearly all of these installations would have benefited from being captured in video rather than still photographs, because many of them rely on movement to engage with the public, whilst in other cases sound is a major component, and some are interactive, depending on people to make them respond.

The first time I visited, on Monday 11th, I did so without looking at the brochure so that I would respond honestly to the installations, rather than being influenced by the descriptions of what I should be seeing and how I should be reacting.  This was quite telling.  In some cases I responded in just the way that the artist would have wanted.  In other cases I missed the point entirely.   For example one installation that was intended to create a feeling of empathy for the downtrodden seemed quite upbeat to me.  I always feel that it is is a measure of how successful a piece of art is when the artist and audience arrive at the same conclusion, so whether my failure is down to me or to the artist is endlessly debatable.   It didn't matter - the entire experience of Winter Lights was enjoyable even whether or not I received the intended message!  Having said that, if you are only intending to visit once, it would make a lot of sense to read the information brochure on the Winter Lights website because you will get far more out of the installations if you know what they are designed to do.

Map from the Winter Lights brochure showing
the location of the installations.
I've described the Installations in the order in which I visited them, my starting point being the Thames Clipper's Canary Wharf pier.   The map in the brochure isn't at all bad, but do note that for 5 and 6 you have to go into the building Crossrail Place building and go down to Lower Level 3 in the elevator (whilst you're there you shouldn't pass up the opportunity of going up to the Roof Garden afterwards - it's brilliant!).  The only one I failed to find was 13, and I suspect that it is missing because it should have been fairly easy to find.

This contains spoilers - explanations from the brochure of what each installation is supposed to represent, as well as my own responses to them before and after I had read the brochure.  If you want to go and see them without knowing what they are intended to represent, read this after your visit! All the photographs in this section are mine.  Where text explaining the pieces is quoted or paraphrased it is from the Winter Lights brochure.  All the comments and opinions about the installations as they appeared to me in Canary wharf are mine.

Fantastic Planet by Amanda Parer. 
(No.18, in Westferry Garden)
Coming off the Thames Clipper, climbing the stairs and crossing the road to head up West India Avenue towards the iconic One Canada Square tower, you come face to face, quite literally, with "Fantastic Planet" (number 18 on the map) by Amanda Parer.  This 18ft high inflated figure is filled with white light.  The creation was inspired by the somewhat frightening futuristic film of the same name.  It is a marvellous entity to greet you as you arrive, moving gently in the wind and giving the sense of being on the cusp of using its great strength to rise to its full height.  The giants in the film were far from benign, keeping humans as pets.  Standing in front of him, it is impossible to imagine what he will do when he finally stands.   He is a rather fine figure to meet the eyes of visitors climbing the stairs from the quayside and approaching the heart of Canary Wharf.

"Chorus" by Ray Lee
(No. 17, Columbus Courtyard)
Next on the map was "Chorus," a set of identical kinetic sculpture by Ray Lee that combines light, motion and sound, in Columbus Courtyard (number 17).  Each piece consists of a fairly massive metal tripod on which there is a horizontal metal arm with a red light at each end, and this rotates while musical pitches emerge.  To be honest, I just couldn't wrap my head around this one.  The arms rotate very slowly, so the light doesn't form any sort of pattern.  The photo in the brochure, obviously taken with a very slow shutter speed, suggests great speed, creating a red circle as it spins, like a child with a sparkler, but this is quite wrong.  The arms move slowly, the light is a minor part of the impact, and the sound, admittedly absorbing, is not dominant enough to tie the whole lot together in a single integrated experience - at least not for me.   I gave it my best shot twice, but couldn't tune into whatever it was trying to convey.  Sorry for the fuzzy photos, which don't do it credit!  It wasn't working on Thursday.

"Totem" by Bitone Collective
(Number 16 in Cabot Square).
My next visit was to number 16, "Totem" by Bitone Collective in Cabot Square (the map shows it in the corner on the north side of the square but it's just inside the entrance to the square, to the south).  When I first visited it I didn't know how it was supposed to work and although I loved the pulsing colours, and the arrangement of the lights, next time I visited it was so much more fascinating for knowing that it responds to mobile phone signals in the area surrounding it, becoming brighter and more colourful the more signals are in its immediate vicinity.  In a place like Canary Wharf you'd think that it would be permanently on red alert, but in fact it reacts constantly as people move in and out of the square, on or off their phones.  It picks up signals whether or not the phone is on a call or just sitting in a pocket, so it is constantly responding, constantly changing.  It is a delightful and somewhat gripping piece of art, interacting not with people themselves but with the technology that they depend upon.  It's a bit like a barometer or a thermometer, constantly monitoring minor transformations in a single variable.  Lovely to watch and, for some reason, a little bit disquieting. Perhaps because it highlights so vividly how dependent we have become on our mobile phone and tablet technology.

By Nathaniel Rackowe
No.1 at One Canada Square (indoors)
Installation 1 is, appropriately, inside 1 Canada Square, in the ground floor lobby of the tower block that defines Canary Wharf.  "Luminous City" consists of three separate pieces, two on the south side of the lobby by the doors onto South Colonnade, and one to the north ("Black Shed Expanded").  They are all by Nathaniel Rackowe who, the brochure says uses "industrial materials such as fluorescent tubing, breeze blocks and bitumen" to create "large scale installations examining the interplay of light and structure in the built environment."   In a sense, it is a distillation of architecture into minimalist basics.  The piece that was getting the most attention was the one shown in the photo on the left, which incorporated motion, a horizontal frame of of lights that rose up a vertical frame and then slowly dropped again, descending into the green-lit gulleys between white-painted timber uprights.  It moves eternally, and I suppose that it is somewhat reminiscent of Canary Wharf itself with its automatic doors, elevators and lights - something that moves at its own pace, much slower than the mad rush of people that move around it, but never really stopping.  The combination of light and motion was attracting people to it in ways that the other two installations by the same artist weren't, which was interesting.  It wasn't working on Thursday, which was a shame, because it was doing a great job on Monday.

At the opposite end of the spectrum in this set of three is "Black Shed Expanded," the only one of the pieces given a title.  This pretty much says what it does on the tin - backlit black-painted panels leaning up against a wall.  In some ways it has more in common with 2-dimensional Cubism than any of the more explicitly 3-dimensional pieces on display in the festival, capturing something everyday but giving it such an unfamiliar context.  Different from both, but still using the same fluorescent white and pea-soup green is Rackowe's third piece, which has a real presence in spite of being entirely static, possibly because of the crazy angle at which it sits, and the open-sided dark panels that give glimpses into the inner workings.  Like it or loath it, it is certainly arresting and, taken together, there is certainly a feeling of urban architecture about the pieces. 

"Liquid Space 6.1" by Daan Roosegaarde
No.3 at Adams Plaza
Next on my list was the interactive and wonderfully appealing "Liquid Space 6.1" by Daan Roosegaarde at Adams Plaza, no. 3.  The rather unexciting name hides a rather delicious interactive installation that leans towards people as they approach, changes colour when people stand beneath it and shifts even more in shape and reach as they move around and gesture upwards. The colours flow along the cables like liquid, and apart from the big terrestrial feet, the entire thing feels faintly aquatic.  People were having huge fun with it, children and adults alike, provoking it to shift and change, to produce new hues, make small small sounds, and generally act like a living thing.  The sphere at the apex of its three legs really does seem like a head when it is in action, and although its legs are fixed to the floor it feels as though it could suddenly move off and go exploring.   The brochure says that it is made of "springs and plastic tubes interwoven with LEDs, spotlights, speakers and sensors" but if you let your imagination run away with you just a little bit, it really feels like artificial intelligence ready to spring into life, and it is great fun.  Sadly, it wasn't working on Thursday (it was a sad little heap of white cables looking rather like a dish of spaghetti), but hopefully it will be fixed in time for the weekend.  I was disappointed because I had really wanted my friend to see it.

Light Sphere 1 by
Tom Wilkinson,
No2 at Adams Plaza
Its neighbour in Adams Plaza, "Light Sphere 1" by Tom Wilkinson (number 2 on the map) struck me in much the same way as Ray Lee's tripods in Columbus Courtyard.  I didn't really get it.  The brochure shows swirling circles of colour that define an empty sphere but this is clearly either a result of photography or it was on a go-slow and wasn't spinning as quickly as it should, or it should have been located somewhere much darker. The brochure says that "Light Sphere 1" is intended to "explore the void at quantum level, with reference to the atom and its field of electrons".  But the reality, at least on the two occasions when I saw it, doesn't seem to meet up to the brochure's promise.  A metal disk rotates vertically on a conical plinth.  The disk is dotted with lights at regular intervals, and these change colours, but there is no sense of colours intermingling or light moving to form circles that would define a sphere.  It was very difficult to understand what the artist was trying to achieve and  I remain to be enlightened, no pun intended. 

"We Could Meet" by Martin Richman
No.3 in the channel at Crossrail Place
Next to the undulating interactive "Liquid Space 6.1" (number 3) is "We Could Meet" by Martin Richman.  This is installed down in water of the long narrow channel that runs along the side of Crossrail Place.  An irregular grid of vertical light tubes are arranged in a square. The colours, warm pinks, purples and reds, change slowly, bright and compelling, and producing different responses as they combinations of colours alter the impact of the arrangement. It is really rather hypnotic, and very beautiful.  The brochure says that the artist "is interested in how art can improve the quality of life in cities, humanising and helping to give locations a sense of place."  A lot of artistic ambitions are terribly pretentious but this one makes sense, because the presence of the feature gives an anchor to the otherwise incredibly confusing jumble of buildings, plazas and walkways, providing an attractive and at times mesmerizing focal point, complemented by the shifting waters in which it sits.  People were leaning on the railings staring down, watching it, completely absorbed.

"A Parallel Image" by Gebhard Sengmuller.
Number 5 at Crossrail Place, Lower Level 3.
From here, you need to go indoors for the next two installations.  There is an entrance into the Crossrail Place building just along the channel from "We Could Meet."  You need to go down to Lower Level 3, where there are signposts clearly showing you left out of the elevator and then right, to installations 5 and 6.  Number 5, "A Parallel Image" by Gebhard Sengmuller, is at the end of the short corridor, and Number 6, "Moon" by Daniel Iregui is in the room to the left.

"A Parallel Image" consists of two light panels connected by a glorious mass of copper wire.  Images are projected onto the first panel and transmitted down the wires to the panel opposite.  According to the brochure, every single pixel is transmitted on a separate one of the copper wires, and there are an awful lot of them!  Stand at the panel at the far end and gesticulate, and the image will be transmitted to the other panel for others to see.  It's really effective!  Like some of the other installations, the combination of light, motion and vivid colour (in this case the copper wires) is truly fascinating.   Its intention is to provide the viewer with a direct experience of how images are communicated, to make the process very nearly transparent.  Whether or not you see it like that, it is a shocking time-waster and very lovely.

"Moon" by Daniel Iregui
No. 5 at Crossrail Place,
Lower Level 3
Its neighbour, in a room to the side, was something of a puzzle on Monday because I was quite unable to connect the installation itself with the description in the brochure.  As above, the description in the brochure is "Moon" by Daniel Iregui and is described as "an interactive sculpture inspired by the enigmatic nature of lunar light.  Through a window a moon is visible floating in the air.  By touching the space outside the window the viewer can control the installation's light, creating mysterious visual effects."  When I went to see it in a pitch black room there was certainly a square frame and a sense of perspective leading towards a distant point, but no-one was interacting with it and it produced, all on its own, some truly marvellous whispy, smoke-like effects that emerged from the distance and swirled within the frame to create some spellbindingly fluid shapes in space.  But there was no indication that interaction would create anything new, and it looked absolutely nothing like the picture in the brochure.  So when I went back on Thursday with a friend, I was expecting to interact with it but the experience was entirely different - bizarrely so.  Instead of looking into the frame from the front, people were standing behind the frame and gesturing wildly, which created a medley of coloured lines on the opposite wall.  The room is pitch dark and the scene refused to be photographed, but it was very strange how on two separate days the experiences were so radically different.  The photograph is from my first visit, on Monday.

After you've visited these you can return to the elevator to go back up to the quayside level where you entered.  However, a better route to the next installations is via the Roof Garden.  I saw it on one of the elevator buttons and went to see what it was, and it is super - a long thin garden of trees and plants along the very top of the building and extending for most of its length, beautifully lit, partly sheltered and partly open. There's a main path leading through the centre, with small winding paths to the sides. It's a permanent feature, and a real treat - particularly because it was so very unexpected.  A sort of miniature modernist version of the hot houses at Kew.  At the opposite end of the garden, go down two sets of escalators and you pop out at the next installations at the end of the water channel.  Here, numbers 7 and 8 are happily side by side. 

"Aura [2014]" by Philips Lighting Design
No.7, Crossrail Place
No.7 is "Aura [2014]" by Philips Lighting Design, which was a huge success with the public of all ages.  As I was approaching, all I could hear was gales of laugher which is always a good sign that something interactive is actually working.  People couldn't stop interacting with it! A big white disc is attached to a wall.  In front of it is a stand with what looks like a loud-haler with a light at its centre.  Take off your gloves (it doesn't work with them) and wave your hand across the the lamp, gently or energetically, and lights and sounds suddenly the white disk springs into life, changing as the user interacts with the light on the stand, harmonizing with the sort of gestures made.  It's a dramatic effect, and incredibly engaging.  The colours are a riot of different shades, and the sound is suitably strange.  The brochure is a bit lame on the subject of a description, but the Philips Museum website has this description that gives some insight into how it works: "AURA responds to stimuli from the surroundings, such as sound and movement. The installation works with a webcam that is linked to a round, sun-shaped lighting fixture and registers color, movement and sound, which it then reflects in a dynamic way. Thanks to the power of LED lighting and digital sound, AURA can respond to the situation and occasion, and change the atmosphere as a result." It works.

Video still from the Lumen Prize Exhibition
No.8 at Crossrail Place
Next to it, no.8 is the Lumen Prize Exhibition, a series of digital art projections created by various artists.  Standing in front of one and then the other of two large screens under a rather small umbrella whilst the rain cascaded down, I found myself unable to drag myself away, which is surprising as I don't normally have much of an attention span for anything on a screen, television included.   The screens showed the results of the short-listed works and winners of the annual competition, which goes on a global tour.  It has already been to Shanghai and New York.  I assumed that I would be able to find them online, but I couldn't find the ones that I was watching with such enjoyment at Canary Wharf on the Lumen Prize Exhibition website.  If, however, you want to see what it's all about have a look at this video by winner Scott Draves: "Electric Sheep: a self-perpetuating system for the production of algorithmic art" (the narrative explains what it's all about but if you find it annoying just turn off the volume to enjoy the view).  It's at its best when switched to full-screen.  I'm working my way through all the videos on the website.  The image on the left is a photograph that I took of one of the videos that I stood and enjoyed, and was hoping to re-visit on the website.  Unfortunately I didn't take a note of the name of the piece or the artist. 

"bit-fall" by Julius Popp
No.15 at Chancellor Passage in
Middle Dock
After Nos. 7 and 8, you need to choose a route to take you to the final cluster of installations, 9-15.  These are all in the general area of Canary Wharf tube station, two in Middle Dock to the south of the station (14 and 15), four in the Jubilee Park, which lies between the two entrances to the station (10-13), and one lies on the other side of the road from Jubilee park in Montgomery Square (9).

I made my way first to No.15, which is the dramatic "bit.fall" by Julius Popp, which is at the end of Chancellor Passage but is actually suspended over the dock (Middle Dock). It took me a moment to realize what I was seeing.  The first impression is simply one of words fading in and out from an overhead bar, but when you get close you realize that the effect is being created by water and light combined, the water falling into the dock below and creating an attractive sound to accompany the light effect.  It is inspired by live news feeds, of the sort that are transmitted on at least one building in Canary Wharf.  The words shown are seemingly random, including Ready, Right, Women, Faces and Arsenal (just the ones I photographed), and according to the brochure "is a metaphor for the incessant flood of information we experience each day, creating a play between technology and its relationship with the natural elements."  If all news broadcasts were this enchanting one might never stop watching.

"Infinity Pools" by Stephen Newby
No.14, in Middle Dock
No.14, "Infinity Pools" by Stephen Newby, is actually IN Middle Dock and takes a bit of finding because there are only four of them and they are not immediately visible from the quayside - you have to know that they are there and then negotiate tables and chairs to lean over the side of the railings along the dock to view them.  If you are at the southern side of the dock go for the blue one because the glass cover of the pink one is covered with condensation.  Once you've found it, however, it's really rather interesting. There are five of them in total and although at first glance they seem to be simple discs, when you look more closely they appear to be endlessly descending tunnels of light, falling infinitely downwards.

"Globoscope" by Collectif Coin
No.11 in Jubilee Park
I went into the Jubilee Place park from the side, half way between the two tube station entrances, so the first installation I came across was "Globoscope" by Collectif Coin (no.11).  Like other installations that respond to an external stimulus of some sort, this generated a lot of interest.  Either side of the path white spheres were arranged in well-spaced lines.  Speakers issued a series of tones in a form of music, and the globes responded to them.  When there was loud music they all lit up bright white, when there was no music they went dark.  As the music rose and fell the lights flowed to the music, loosely synchronized.  As some of the spheres are installed on a slight rise and others are on the flat, the topography of the park contributes to the patterns and the sense of movement as the sound and light combine with the green grass and the lie of the land to pull the viewer in to the experience.  The brochure comments "Mathematics, sound and light are all brought into play to represent, transform and augment the space offering spectators a surreal promenade" and this worked very well, as many people were moving around between the lines of light, getting closer to the patterns as they formed.

"My Light is Your Light" by Alaa Minawi
No. 10 in Jubilee Park.
Continue down the path and on the left, "My Light is Your Light . . ." by Alaa Minawi (No.10 in Jubilee Park) was my greatest personal failure.  My understanding of it was completely wrong.  A series of six figures defined by outlines of white neon white walk in the same direction, bright and bizarrely full of movement, in spite of being completely static.  I interpreted this as a family group walking along together at undemonstrative ease with each other.  I saw it as some sort of allegory of modern families who manage to be both together and detached from each other at the same time.  Which was completely wrong.  I liked it very much and felt at home with it, but here's the description from the brochure:  "In today's troubled world my light is your light . . . was created as an act of solidarity with Syrian refugees.  The silhouettes of a family of six hopelessly fleeing a conflict zone have been created in lines of neon light.  the radiating glow of sculptures acts as a tribute to all refugees who yearns for their extraordinary stories to be heard." Oh well - you can't win them all!  The friend with whom I visited on Thursday likened it to Lowry's matchstick men, which was certainly much closer to the mark.

"On The Wings of Freedom" by Aether and Hemera
No.13, in Jubilee Park
One of my favourites for its sheer beauty was "On The Wings of Freedom" by Aether and Hemera (No. 13, also in Jubilee Park), and that's in spite of its name.  It was a great winner with other people too, who leaned against the walls of the ornamental pond and watched it go through its paces. The hues were vibrant and striking, the butterflies on their stems (although I confess that I thought that they were flowers) were perfect containers for the light, superbly translucent and glowing with luminous colour.  Like "Totem" it apparently responds to mobile phone signals and people should be able to interact with it directly by using their mobiles in its presence, causing it to change its lighting in real time.  I didn't know this on Monday but on Thursday we tried it (first sending text messages and then phoning home) and I have to say we couldn't make it do anything that it wasn't already doing.  But it was incredibly beautiful, so it really didn't seem to matter.

No.12, "Flawless" by Gonzalo Bascunan and Perrine Vichet was still under construction on Thursday, surrounded by scaffolding and ladders.  When it is eventually assembled, the brochure says that its bright, iridescent leaves are intended to invoke thoughts about photosynthesis and to "encourage the viewer to contemplate how essential light is for human well-being, as well as creating a place of fantasy and imagination." The leaves represent elm, a conscious reference to the real tragedies of Dutch Elm Disease, something that has changed the face of the British landscape.

Finally, and a great winner with the public (and me), is no.9, "The Pool" by Jen Lewin Studio in Montgomery Square.  This is visually impressive and great fun to play with.  It turned the most serious looking adults into children all over again.  Consisting of a circle of circular illuminated pads or discs, each disc cycles through different colours of pink and blue, but each turns to rainbow colours when it is stepped on.  Some people were moving cautiously from one pad to another, whilst others were running across, creating rainbow paths in their wake.  It was irresistible.  I slung my camera on my shoulder and found myself hopping from one to another, enjoying the reward of the blaze of colours beneath my feet.  When I went with my friend, we were like a pair of kids, leaping from one pad to another and narrowly missing bumping into other people.  A co-ordinated effort would probably create some even more amazing patterns.  It was fun to do and endlessly entertaining to watch.

"The Pool" by Jen Lewin
No.9, Montgomery Square

I loved the Winter Lights festival.  It was food for thought, it was often intriguing, sometimes it was bewildering, it was frequently very beautiful, but most of all it was fun to get out there and experience all the different things that could be done with artificial lighting and a lot of imagination.

It was obvious that those installations that drew most attention were those that interacted either with people, with sound or mobile phone signals.  The opportunity to get involved, or to see installations as something other than purely static clearly had enormous appeal.  I think that if installations like "Totem" (16,) at Cabot Square and "On the Wings of Freedom" (13) at Jubilee Park, had been more obvious in the way that they responded their environment (both respond to mobile phone signals) they would have been more obviously appealing to people who could have experimented to see if they could influence the lights.  It might have helped to have information signs next to them to explain how to interact with them.

Others that worked well were those, like "bit.fall" (15) over Middle Dock and that had a dramatically transitional element built into them.  Of course the giant white inflatable man, "Fantastic Planet" (18) at Westferry Garden, had an impact all of its own.

Those that didn't work as well in this very dynamic festival were those that failed to engage directly with the senses.  Those pieces might challenge the intellect, but they could have worked just as well in an art gallery.  The real strength of the festival as an entity in its own right was the sense of everything being in transition, dynamic, unexpected and in a constant state of flux in an outside setting that is completely unlike any art gallery or museum that one might have visited.

Canary Wharf is a mixed blessing as a setting.  In some ways it might be better to see the installations against a dark background instead of set against the brilliance of the office buildings, and I do wonder if "Light Sphere I" (2) and "Chorus" (17) failed to make an impact because they needed a dark background to set them off.  But at the same time, the walls of light surrounding all 15 outdoor installations put them in the context that gave life to them in the first place.  A dilemma.

If you're in two minds about it, just go and have a look.  If nothing else, it's fun to watch how other people react to the various installations.