The Dockers was a sculpture by Sydney Harpley. Installed on the Lansbury Estate in 1962 it stood in Trinity Gardens next to the Trinity Methodist Church. Part of London County Council’s Art Patronage Scheme. This was an attempt to bring public art into urban space.
Sadly the Dockers no longer exists. It was badly vandalised until only the legs of the piece remained. It’s fate was similar to the nearby ‘Woman and Fish‘ by Frank Dobson. That too suffered damage and had to be scrapped. The only evidence that the Dockers sculpture even existed is now a sad empty plinth.
Public Art and Social Housing
At the time Sydney Harpley’s Dockers sculpture was acquired it was meant to form a link with the new estate and it’s history. The docks are nearby and Poplar was at the heart of the docking industry. During the war the area was heavily targeted. It resulted in a large scale social housing programme of which the Lansbury Estate was a core component.
The two central figures are shown carrying a load. The image would be reminiscent of work carried out by men on the docks. Shifting heavy items from the port to the warehouses which were once so vital to the trade of the city. It could be back breaking work. Many of the workers would have lived around the Poplar area.
The Poplar Sculpture
The load itself blends in with the figures. The bottom half of the sculpture were two pairs of legs. One standing astride as if to take the weight whilst another tries to adjust the load. They could be unloading or perhaps they are placing the cargo into storage at a nearby warehouse. Either way what they are carrying appears cumbersome and large. It obscures the people themselves, a heavy weight which becomes all consuming.
Now demolished we know that in 1981 Sydney Harpley’s Dockers sculpture suffered badly not only from vandalism but from a fire that happened that year. For years it stood without the weight that so defined it, just two pairs of torso less legs standing aimlessly on the plinth. Since demolished altogether, all we have of this piece is the memory.