Bow down before us

WHO'D A THUNK it? When the Ministry of Defence wrote to the residents of the old match factory in Bow, East London, to inform them that for their safety and security they were to be blessed with an array of A5 anti-aircraft missiles on the building's tower, did they not take a look at the building? Had they done so, they might have guessed that they'd be delivering this security-sensitive missive to more than one journalist.

The site was the scene of a key moment in the history of Britain when the 1888 "match girls' strike" marked the forcible entry of women into the trade union movement. The women who made matches for Quaker businessman Theodore Bryant were charged for the materials they worked with - sounds familiar to freelances? The final straw was when management insisted they denounce a pamphlet by feminist Annie Besant decrying their conditions - which included "phossy jaw" abscesses that glowed in the dark.

Bow Quarter with missiles; © Brian Whelan

The military on the roof, if you look very closely.

Fast forward 124 years and the factory is flats: and its water tower handily overlooks the complex of electric fences and military checkpoints that is an East Ender's view of the Olympic Games. One resident, at the time of writing, is Brian Whelan, one-time newspaper reporter, now an editor for Yahoo! - and star of the morning news shows when he Tweeted the MoD letter.

Then it all got appallingly complicated. The building's management, it seems, would prefer to host a tranquil apolitical yammer of yuppies, the better to let flats to corporations like Ford. Brian got a notice to quit. The letting agent claimed to have a tape of him giving up the tenancy. They didn't. The case continues. Prior to their deployment on the roof the Bow match factory, only a small number of A5 missiles had ever been test-fired.

Brian told the Freelance: "I moved to a building I thought would be safe, with 24-hour security, after years of writing about the far right in the UK and Ireland. It seems I've actually moved into the most dangerous building in east London. The MoD have done their best to make me seem like a fringe resident with no support - but the feeling in the local community is overwhelmingly opposed to this plan and we are getting organised. The Olympics should be an opportunity to showcase the greatest sporting talents from across the globe, not for showcasing military hardware and cracking down on civil liberties."

Olympic razor wire; © Mike Holderness

The old Abbey Mills sewage pumping station: the new razor wire suggests some Olympic function or other

Last modified: 06 Jun 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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