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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A picturesque survival

Monday, January 9th., London.

The "beach" (for it is not a wharf) on the Surrey side of the Thames at Putney Bridge presents one of the most genuinely picturesque sights in London. Moored side by side in rows are a number of barges with their immense brown main-sails furled on the masts. Their rigging, seen as I see it against the panorama of a sunset sky, makes a forest of cordage, above which the little coloured pennants flutter. At all states of the tide the barges are being busily unloaded of their cargoes of yellow bricks and road metal. Shovelfuls of stones and little cubes of brick pass ceaselessly from the enormous holds into the, by comparison, tiny carts, and as each cart is filled a tip-horse attaches itself to it, and with cracking of whips the animals dash up the steep incline to the street.

This seems to go on all day and every day. At high tides the water is over the hubs of the wheels and washing against the chests of the motionless horses ... It is a scene of rapid and healthy activity, and the blue smoke from the cabins of the sailing barges suggests other activities than those seen from the bridge.

In time no doubt all this building and road material will reach Putney by railway or by steamer; at any rate a wharf will be built and served by steam crane; and then this singular survival of an old activity will pass away in its turn, and we shall tell young people that we remember it.

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