Home » Cultural Life » Remembering London’s “Lost” Village – The Story of Orchard Place

Remembering London’s “Lost” Village – The Story of Orchard Place


Orchard Place 1895

In many posts I have mentioned the fact that the Isle of Dogs is relatively unknown to many Londoners. Even more surprising considering the small size of the “Island” is there are parts of the Island that are unknown to Islanders.

Orchard Place occupies a small spit of land surrounded by Bow Creek and since the 1930s has been the home to Industrial concerns except at the tip where it is the home of Trinity Buoy Wharf.

However from the 19th century up to the 1930s this was the home for a small settlement of people who in someways were effectively cut off from the Isle of Dogs. Their remoteness led to number of stories about their lawlessness and rough lifestyle, their reputation were not helped by visitors such as William Booth researchers who considered them some of the ” poorest and roughest in London “and a local vicar Father Lawless who described them in very unchristian way  as ‘hardly human’and ‘incarnate mushrooms’, before finally stating   ‘God must have made a mistake in creating them’.

These stories were obviously exaggerated because a police inspector told the Booth researcher  that they were no trouble and Inspectors of the local board school who often praised its educational performance and behaviour.


The small population suffered greatly with the 1928 flooding of the area. In the early 1930s a newspaper report labelled them London’s Lost village.

In the slum clearances of the 1930s most of the small population was rehoused in a new block of flats at Oban House in nearby Poplar and the ramshackle houses pulled down, One of the people rehoused was Charles Lammin who wrote down his recollections in 1935 about life in the “lost” village.

“The Orchard House, is in the shape of twin peninsulas, it was populated about 120 years ago. On the site was built about 100 two-storied cottages, also several factories. Thirty or forty cottages have since been demolished at various dates to make room for improvements. (The rest are now in 1935 condemned as unfit for human habitation).

“The Orchard House is part of old Blackwall in the Parish of All Saints, Poplar, but about 1876 it was separated from the main part by the cutting of the basin of the East India Dock which left us isolated from the main roads, excepting a narrow road, named Leamouth Road, (this was formerly named Orchard Street).

“The Orchard House is bounded on the south side by the river Thames, on the north and east by Bow Creek, on the west by the East India Dock. The narrow Leamouth Road between Bow Creek and the East India Dock is all that joins us to the mainland of Poplar; therefore, the natives have always felt to be nothing to do with other districts.

“From its start to the present, we have never had either a butcher, baker, barber, post office, Police Station, Fire Station or Pawn Shop, or seen a tramway or bus in our neighbourhood, so we have to do all our domestic business in Poplar, via Leamouth Road, which is a long and lonely walk, especially by night.


“The name of the place is derived from the fact that there stood an old Inn named the Orchard House, which was demolished about eighty years ago. The site is now occupied by the Union Castle Line. In the early days the entrance to the Orchard House was started by the old East India Dock on the right – (the basin had not then been made); the dock contained nothing else but the old wooden sailing ships (steamers were not then known), and on the left of the entrance was what was known as the Pepper warehouse. This was the store and warehouse for the sailing vessels in the dock. Ammunitions were brought from Woolwich by Military wagons to the Pepper warehouse, and carried across Leamouth Road, through a gateway in the dock wall, to arm ships in the Dock, as the seas at that period were infested with Pirates. When the basin and warehouses were built and steamers began to come into being, the sailing ships gradually disappeared, the pepper warehouses were taken over by the Great Eastern Railway (now the L.N.E. Railway), and it still stands, and is still known to us as the pepper warehouse.

“The work carried on in the Orchard House during the first half of its existence was, at one end, mast, blocks, sailmaking, ships lifeboats and sailing ships. At the other end was carried on glass-making, oil milling and Boilermaking (Engineering in its early stages).

“The glass-making firm stood on the ground, which is now occupied by Messrs. Baldwins (who still have some of the Glass House walls standing), also the Bow Creek Union Oil Mills, Fowler Sugar Refinery, The Thames Sack & Bag Factory, the L.C.C. School, and also the roadway which leads to the above premises.

“Up to about 1875 the Glass House prospered, employing about 75% of all the inhabitants of the Orchard House, who were nearly all related. Plate glass was made there and sent all over the Country, including all the glass used in making the Crystal Palace, but about 1875 the competition of the United States glass industry ruined the Old Orchard House glass factory and caused them to close down. Therefore, the largest proportion of the workers, both men and women emigrated to New Albany, Indiana, U.S.A. to follow up the same class of work. They have invariably stayed there and have gradually died. (My Grandfather and Grandmother amongst them).

“There are still a large number of descendents of the glass workers living in the Orchard House, the most numerous are the Lammins, the Scanlons and the Jeffries, who also have greatly intermarried. By being isolated as we always have been, the children have always had to make their own amusements and being surrounded by water, naturally we have made the river our playground; therefore, both boys and girls have learned to swim and handle rowing boats equal to anybody. Up till a few years ago, the weekly practices of the young men was to hold rowing and swimming matches among themselves, and excellent form was always shown, but with the advent of the L.C.C. schools the common sports have died down as the men and women have other amusements in the Evening Schools such as woodwork, sewing, singing, dancing, gymnasium, etc.

“As riverside dwellers, it is a common occurrence to hear of children falling into the river, but they generally manage to scramble out themselves, but if they cannot, there is always elder ones near (both boys and girls) who take it as a matter of course, that they must jump in and save the drowning one. This is such a frequent occurrence that the inhabitants make no fuss about it, but only say it is our duty.

“The boys of the neighbourhood, also some of the men, mostly own rowing boats, and can therefore, pick up plenty of flotsam and jetsom, such as firewood, coal, old iron, rope, etc., which they sell at a very cheap rate to the neighbours. If asked, most of the people would outwardly show regret at leaving their old homes and surroundings, but inwardly we are almost invariably longing for the time to evacuate our old vermin and rat infested houses and get into clean and modern dwellings.

“In any time of personal trouble, in spite of any family quarrels, we always rally to each others assistance. We also address each other by our Christian and Maiden names, for years after we have been married. We are also very familiar and friendly with our School masters, teachers, or police who happen to be on their beats, and often have a friendly chat with them. It sometimes happens that strangers out of curiosity visit the old place; when they do, they have always been treated with civility and respect, and shown anything of interest to them.

“There are hundreds of people living in Poplar who have never heard of the Orchard House, or know where it is. I believe that some sections of the populace of London think that we are a low, rough and ignorant lot of scamps, but as the eldest member of one of the most numerous and oldest families still living here, I class myself as a true type of the general class of person in the Orchard House.

“I was born in 1873, right opposite my Grandfather’s old cottage, and at the age of twelve years I started work for Trinity House Corporation Workshops (also on the Orchard House). I was employed by them for 47 years, but was forced to resign through a prolonged illness. Now I am on the dole, and am still able and willing to take any light job. My Maternal Grandfather and Grandmother came from Lancashire to the Glass Works at the Orchard House where they and my mother worked until it closed. My Grandparents then emigrated to the U.S.A. leaving my Mother who was married with three children, (I being the eldest, behind at the Orchard House). My father was employed at Blewitts Oil Mills. Eventually I married my wife at the age of 22, who also came from an old and respected family of Blackwall; we have known each other since childhood, and have borne nine sons and two daughters, who still cling to the old home.

“We are respectful to everybody, but neither owe nor care for anybody, and although we live in such a lonely place I have never heard of anybody being molested by the people of Orchard House.

“Up to a few years ago it was a frequent occurrence to have the tide into our houses as high as eight or nine stairs up, especially in the Winter, which caused a lot of suffering, but the Authorities have by law, forced the owners of riverside premises to raise the banks, which has greatly prevented this happening, unless we get an abnormal high tide, like the recent great Thames Flood 1928, which ruined the bulk of our furniture and bedding, etc., but thanks to the generosity of the public, we were partly compensated for our losses, which helped us to get over it.

“At the present time 20% of the men of the Orchard House own motor boats of various sizes; they are mostly converted from old ships, lifeboats, whalers, fishing boats, etc., These are converted by the men themselves, and a great source of pleasure for them and their families and friends in fine weather or holiday times, is a trip down the Thames as far as Canvey Island.

“We also have our weekly socials at the Bow Creek Evening Institute, which bring people of other districts amongst us, and we pass many happy nights together. I, myself at the age of 63 am still a member of the Evening Woodwork Class and have just built a rowing boat to hold four persons on the Old Bow Creek.

“I regret having to leave the site of my family’s trials and struggles, but am comforted by the thought that we will still be able to see our old home and birthplace in the distance, across the Old Creek, which surrounds the Orchard House.”



  1. Georgina Southall. says:

    Very interesting.My family lived in Orchard Place & my grandmother was born there in 1893.My great grandfather worked on the Trinity Light Ships. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Hi Georgina,
      Thank you about for the kind comments, I would be delighted to publish something about your family if you have any memories or photos, As I said in the post Orchard Place is a bit of a mystery to many people so if we can show how people really lived there it will dispel some of the myths.

      • Georgina Southall. says:

        Thank you for your reply. I am a family historian and currently manage eight branches, endless hours of enjoyment!
        I have written narratives on some aspects of our family just for our private family history. Robert & Jane Peck’s story is yet to be written, they were my maternal great grandparents who lived in Orchard Place. They were just ordinary working folk nothing special but these are the stories that need to be remembered.
        Kind Regards,
        Georgina Southall.

      • Hi Georgina,

        I am sure you are very busy with all those branches of the family !
        I agree with you that it is the stories of your relatives that need to be remembered and that i am trying to do with this site.
        As mentioned before if you wish to do a piece or send the information for me to include in a later post please do.
        I must admit Orchard place is a fascinating place and i will be doing pieces on the area in the next few months.
        Once again many thanks for getting in touch.

      • Georgina Southall. says:

        Hi again,

        I will try to get a piece together soon for the site.


      • I will look forward to it.

  2. I was thrilled to find picture and information about Orchard wharf My family we barge builders and the children went to the school there Winifred, Elsie,Arthur and Alfred White

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for leaving a message, as regular readers will know I have a soft spot for this area.
      You be glad to know there is a new school recently opened in trinity buoy wharf.

  3. Bill says:

    And Oban House is still, unfortunately standing

  4. Thankyou – a most interesting article. Helped understand this area of London. Alexander Fowler, a sugar refiner at Orchard Place Glasshouse was married to Marjory Stewart with a family of eight daughters.

    • Hi Anne,

      Thank you for the comment, this is a quite mysterious part of London which has always fascinated me. The people that lived here were an interesting mixture with quite a few with connections to the North East of England. Was Alexander Fowler a relative of yours ? Eight daughters would have been quite an handful to look after !!!!

  5. Lynn gordon says:

    Hello fascinated to read this article on orchard place. My family come from there, they are the Scanlans, my family were very kind caring law abiding people, I Evan have a letter by one of them describing the place as the land of love, so was shocked to read some of the comments but interested in other people’s viewpoints of my family.

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for the comments, if you read my posts you will have noticed that I have a soft spot for Orchard Place and trinity buoy wharf.
      I think that you must remember that the comments from the church were based on prejudice and ignorance. I prefer to rely on the views of the school inspectors who offered an independent view of the community. They all said how well the school was run and how the children were healthy and well adjusted.
      That was quite an achievement in the late 19th / early 20th century. Many of the people from the area came from the North East to work in the Thames Glassworks and they seemed to always retain a strong community spirit. They were also very self sufficient and seemed to recycle ( not steal ) wood and other items.
      Orchard Place is in a very unusual setting, effectively cut off from the nearby residential areas. As I mentioned in the article, most Londoners did not know where the Isle of Dogs was ! many of the people on the Isle of dogs never visited Orchard Place, although it is only a couple of miles away.

      It is a fascinating subject to which I often return, once again many thanks.

      • Lynn gordon says:

        Hello again, I have some photos of my grandad and his girlfriend and her family which I believe to be in orchard place would you be interested in them?

  6. colin smith says:

    hi i was brought up in orchard place after being born just outside london during the bombing i have great memories of orchard place and had a wonderful time there my dad was at sea on the russian convoys and i was brought up by my mum my aunty and my grand parents my grand parents had a pub called the crown it brings back good memories really good ones to me thanks to everyone and the comments

  7. Patricia Ann Mourant says:

    Hello! Many thanks for this wonderful history about Orchard House. My great grandfather lived here during the 1880’s. Five of his children were born here and baptized at All Saint’s Poplar.
    My great grandfather was born on the Isle of Wight and moved to Orchard House in 1881 when his first child was born.
    I was lucky enough to make a journey to Poplar and walked from Black Wall to Canary Wharf. I took a photo of All Saints which is now part of my family history archive. This was in 2015.
    My great grandfather worked on the docks I am told. It is fascinating for me to read about the houses that were built and how they became flooded when the river flooded its banks.
    My great grandfather eventually left Orchard House in 1891 and moved to Kent. Then he immigrated to Canada in 1906 to Toronto where I was born.
    He went from there to British Columbia (where I live now) and subsequently back to Hamilton, Ontario in 1935. He passed away in 1941.
    I have just come back from a trip to Hamilton to visit his resting place. So you can see he had quite a life!
    Again many, many thanks for this website.
    I would be so grateful if you could give me any sites to check that might have photographs of this area.
    Yours truly, Pat Mourant, Vancouver, B.C. Canada

    • Hi Pat,

      Thanks for the information about your great grandfather, it is amazing how many people from Orchard Place did emigrate.
      Orchard Place was a very unusual community but one that has always fascinated me.

    • GEORGE DONOVAN says:

      Hello; I am at this time doing a write up on my wife’s MAHONEY family that lived at Orchard Place. One of the family died there as a result of accidental drowning when as a ferryman he was taking some seaman back to their ship. One of his sons also went to Canada [MANITOBA] but as a Barnardo’s boy and was killed as a Canadian serviceman in World War One. I have known Orchard Place for many many years, in fact in 1948/9 I worked in one of the factories there. In recent years I have visited there on various occasions —it’s always fascinated me.

  8. Martin holland says:

    My relative was Bill netley one of the fireman how died in the 1936 dockyard fire ,orchard place

  9. Lynn says:

    Hello , enjoyed reading this very interesting article. I’m currently tracing my mums family tree and have gained a bit of information so far , their surname was Lammin and my Nan & her family were born and raised in Orchard place . It would be great if you could forward anything else that might help with my search? Many thanks

    • Hi Lynn,

      I have written a number articles about Orchard Place and Bow Creek on the website, the Lammin’s were a well known family.
      At the bottom of the articles is comments from people who have contacts with Orchard Place, this might be useful.

  10. Norman Piper says:

    Hi All.
    I worked in Orchard Place from 1956 -1970 at Richard Thomas & Baldwins (served an apprenticeship in Engineering) I remember a couple of old cottage houses with people still living there!
    Foowlers West Indian Treacle, British Oil & Cake Mills. The old school was still there as a scrap metal recycling company. Can remember the cobbled street often all sticky with sugar residue from Fowlers!! And that long walk down Leamouth Rd ( the wall!! ) to get to Orchard Place.
    Happy days. Norman Piper. Now 83 years old!!

    • Lynn says:

      Hello Norman, “the wall “ lol. I remember that so well! My grandad was born 8 boat st orchard place, very sadly when l was eleven he passed away, in my grief l and a friend walked down Leamouth rd to find his old home that he loved so much, it was that wall that terrified me so much and that l turned back, something lve always regretted.

  11. Angela Plumb says:

    My mother in law came from Orchard house. Her name was Rose Ford. Rose had a brother William. I remember her telling me that at one time about a flood and Rose had to go to a children’s home in Poplar, called Langley house. When they pulled the Orchard house down. They moved to Oban house. Poplar.

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