Banksy on the bank? – On noticing the Greenwich Peninsula’s pre-cast concrete time-tunnel

Around this time last year my son and I took a trip to London to visit the Titanic artefacts exhibition at the O2 arena. Each of us was rather underwhelmed by that experience. We had a few hours to spare, so went for a stroll along the rather battered coast path that leads down to Greenwich proper. For me the walk was, in part, inspired by Christian Nold’s sensory mapping of the peninsula, in which he’d used biosensors to plot the emotional recall of residents wandering this zone. I wondered what we – as ‘out of towners’ would find. My son probably wondered that too (but without the theory bit).

On a desolate strip of wharfage, a demolition site behind, with the sound and smell of bricks being ground back into dust, we came upon some abandoned sections of precast concrete tunnels.

They were just sitting there. Scattered like discarded kids’ building blocks. But these tunnel sections were each van-sized. There was a crane nearby, and a slightly unnerving instruction to venturers to these parts that they should await the handsignals of the operator before proceeding further along the path. I wondered what arcane signals he might use to communicate crane-speak to me, but sadly the cab was empty.

We lingered here for quite a while, each of us inspecting these tunnel sections. Each for our own reasons. He because he’s young enough to still find graffiti and swear words exciting and shocking. Me because the urban art with which these tunnel sections were festooned was not all recent. By my guess, many of these words and images were inscribed here in the mid 1980s. The youth of today don’t seem to invoke Charles Manson in the way that he was paraded around as an icon of the ‘alternative’ back in the day. And seal clubbing doesn’t seem to get much of a look-in to public discourse either nowadays. These concrete sections thus reeked for me of a certain ’80s counter-culture. Triggering a partial nostalgia, but also a realisation that things come and go (but leave behind some traces).

And then I spotted the rats. The sprayed on rats. Small and down in a corner. But looking very much like Banksy rats. This concrete array then seemed stranger. Like some alien art-ship that had crash-landed here or the skeletal hulk of a tattooed cement whale, who had lost his way in a worm-hole sometime in 1986 and ended up stranded here.

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I realise Banksy hunting is something of a sport these days and that there’s quite a lot of his stuff around. But all the same. This concrete time-tunnel is probably worth a lot more than the wrecking crew realise…

Details of Christian Nold’s sensory mapping project:


About lukebennett13
Reader & Course Leader, BSc Hons Real Estate, Sheffield Hallam University, UK. I TEACH: built environment law to construction, surveying, real estate and environmental management students. I RESEARCH: metal theft; urban exploration & recreational trespass; occupiers' perceptions of liability for their premises. I THINK: about the links between ideas, materialities and practices in the built environment. I WAS: an environmental lawyer working in commercial practice for 17 years before I joined academia in 2007. I EXPLAIN: the aims of my blogsite site here: LINKS: Twitter: @lukebennett13; Archive: EPITAPH: “He lived at a little distance from his body, regarding his own acts with doubtful side-glances.” James Joyce, Dubliners

2 Responses to Banksy on the bank? – On noticing the Greenwich Peninsula’s pre-cast concrete time-tunnel

  1. Brian Lewis says:

    Interesting piece, Luke, and it opens up perspectives on the North Greenwich peninsula that hadn’t occurred to me on my walks through (or around) the territory – i.e. the dense, aged (counter-) cultural accretions on the concrete sections. One of the more positive outcomes of the Dome project was the extension of the Thames path east of Woolwich; worth exploring (and more rewarding and ‘immersive’ as it pushes east beyond Dartford). My last journey to North Greenwich was made in darkness (a December evening: Bermondsey to the O2), which chopped out the middle distance and left only the immediate course and the lit horizon beyond. The path, the path’s sudden obstacles, the wharves’ fenced-off, darkened frames and heaps; the built-up bank of the north; the cold black water moving with me.

    • Thanks Brian – you are truly the champion of endurance urban walking! It’s been good to see you writing about it your walks recently – your comments here capture the tone of your trekking wonderfully

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