London – Tower Hamlets (Borough of) – Virginia Settlers’ Memorial

This area near East India Dock has changed considerably over the last 100 years, with the bulk of the docks now completely filled in. Just to the left of the cursor on the above map is where the Virginia Settlers’ Memorial is now located.

The buildings to the left of this photo are on Jamestown Way, standing on what 100 years ago was Blackwall railway station, although that closed in 1926. There’s a DLR station of that name today, but it’s a little distance away.

It was from this location in Blackwall on 19 December 1606 that three ships, Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery, set sail for the new world. It took them four months to get there, which I can’t imagine was a pleasant cruising arrangement, and then two thirds of the settlers died by 1608 when further relief ships arrived. It was all an enterprise established by the London Company who wanted to establish a series of colonial settlements along the coast in what is now the United States, not a project that went entirely well.

The plaque here was placed on a nearby building in 1928 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, but that structure was badly damaged during air raid bombings during the Second World War. The memorial plaque was moved onto this current memorial in 1951 following an unveiling which was attended by the United States Ambassador. The memorial was left abandoned and was vandalised, with someone pinching the mermaid that was on top, although in 1999 this was replaced by an astrolabe following the redevelopment of the nearby residential properties. It’s all a much more salubrious area today, peaceful and with extensive views along the River Thames.

I wonder what those who set sail over 400 years ago would have thought about the Millennium Dome (or whatever it’s called now) in the background, and indeed what would they have thought about Virginia today. There’s not much at Jamestown now, which is where the settlers ended up, just a heritage site noting the colonial landings. The plaque notes those who went on the ships as “adventurers” and it’s hard to deny that since they founded the first permanent English colony in America.