Did you know that you can stand in England and not cross the ocean or you might take the MTA and get off on English soil?
It may come as a surprise that parts of New York City are from the United Kingdom and if you walk way down Manhattan’s East 25th Street you’ll find yourself standing on English soil.
No, not something created by treaty like an embassy or consulate, but rather, actual English land, brought to the Port of New York during s some of the darkest days of World War II. Given the city’s colonial origins, cross-Atlantic trade, and World War II alliance, it begins to make more sense.
This small outcropping of land near East 25th as well as a small stretch of the FDR Drive, was made out of landfill from the English city of Bristol – during WWII.
U.S. and Canadian merchant marine vessels steamed across the Atlantic to keep the British supplied against Nazi Germany’s assault. These ships were loaded with weapons when they set out on their journey, risking U-boat and air attack. When they arrived, the supply ships delivered so much cargo, with nothing to bring back, that they needed ballast to stabilize them for the return journey.
The men and women of Bristol, many of whose homes had been utterly destroyed by the Luftwaffe’s air assault, loaded these ships with the rubble of their city. Acting as ballast, these literal chunks of England returned to the U.S., where merchant marine vessels offloaded them into the East River and picked up fresh cargo to return to Europe.
The resulting landfill created the area known as Bristol Basin, quite literally built from part of England.
I found this short video
In 1942, the English-Speaking Union of the United States erected a plaque commemorating Bristol’s unique contribution to New York City.
Nearby, the British International School houses its River View Campus in Waterside Plaza’s Building 20. The plaque itself has moved around over the years, and now overlooks a portion of the East River with spectacular views of Queens and Brooklyn.
The plaque reads: “Beneath this East River Drive of the City of New York lie stones, bricks and rubble from the bombed City of Bristol in England. Brought here in ballast from overseas, these fragments that once were homes shall testify while men love freedom to the resolution and fortitude of the people of Britain. They saw their homes struck down without warning. It was not their walls but their valor that kept them free. And broad-based under all is planted England’s oaken-hearted mood, as rich in fortitude as e’er went worldward from the island wall.”
The plaque was was rededicated in 1972 by the actor Cary Grant, a Bristol native whose family survived the bombings.
Know Before You Go
Follow E 25th Street as far east as it goes; crossing a footbridge, one arrives at Waterside Plaza. Stairs lead you to the central public plaza, where on the northeast side there is a plaque dedicated to the English city of Bristol that supplied the land on which Waterside Plaza is built.
Unless you have a personal interest in Bristol history, or you would be walking/bicycling along the East River, I would suggest that you let this article be your virtual visit.