Bromley-by-Bow Gasworks sketch and walk tours

Exploring heritage through sketching…

“Don’t worry about doing a good drawing”, I said to people who hadn’t sketched for a while. “Just enjoy this extraordinary site and sketch what interests you, by way of looking at it.”

These Grade II listed east London gasholders are full of Victorian industrial show-off. No detail is left uncelebrated, from lace-like ironwork through beautifully-constructed rollers to elaborate plaques crediting each gasholder’s engineers and its date.

The two days of tours, organised by St William, the developers of the site, have been part of Newham Heritage Month. For its 2023 theme Our Creative Newham, the tours have offered a new way to look at the gasworks, learn about its history and restoration and see and comment on design work in progress for its future.

I chose charcoal for low impact on the site and recycled and seed papers to draw on. And I drew along. I love an industrial landscape but it was also to make the walk a relaxed, companionable thing with informally-delivered tips that freed people to bring themselves to their sketches.

The joy of it was the many different perspectives: engineers brought their structural understanding, textile designers their love of pattern, we had precise construction by numbers people, plaque drawings by type lovers, family stories, a birder spotting a heron and someone who knew the names of the wild flowers. In the throw-down at the end of each walk, we could each see the place through others’ eyes.