Overall structure of Redriff

The title of this section is an old word for Rotherhithe, the district on the south shore of the Thames east of Tower Bridge. The time is the mid-nineteenth century, during the heyday of Victorian Thames-side prosperity. Most of the section is a monologue spoken by Ebenezer Bradshaw, the poet’s maternal grandfather. A shipwright and master mast and block maker, he owned his own workshop on the river in Rotherhithe where he repaired ships and made small boats. He was handsome, bearded, powerfully-built, and spoke, Jones said, in the home county accent of Churchill and George V, dropping ‘g’s at the end of sentences and saying ‘gels’ instead of girls. At work he wore a suit and top hat but would roll up his sleeves and work beside his employees. A devout Protestant (very low-church Anglican), he read the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and Milton every morning before breakfast. He prided himself on his craftsmanship, and did, in fact, have the argument that is fictionalised here. The ship was Italian and its cargo, as here, sulphur from Sicily. So the poem now approaches the condition of documentary.

In a real sense, Bradshaw’s insistence on fine craftsmanship continues the prehistoric artistry referred to in ‘Rite and Fore-Time’ as making possible Christian significance. For Bradshaw, who does not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, this significance is limited to the redemptive effect of the Crucifixion. Care in making is prerequisite to a sign being efficacious, to a symbol being valid, to an object having meaning as well as use.

[quoted with permission from Dilworth, Reading David Jones, pp. 151,154; spelling silently Anglicised.]

page 118 A ship berths in the Port of London. The master wants some quick repairs done, so as not to have to pay too much in berthing fees. Eb Bradshaw refuses, saying he does not do cheap and nasty; he has high standards of material and craftsmanship which he will not compromise.
119-120 He elaborates his argument, but offers to do a quality job.
121 The offer is apparently refused; let him go then, says Eb.