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Lordship in the Docks – The Manual Labours of Viscount Ockham


Thames Ironworks foundry

Byron Noel Viscount Ockham later known as Baron Wentworth was the grandson of famous poet Lord Byron and son of Ada Lovelace who was well known as a mathematician and is considered one of the first computer programmers for her work on Charles Babbages analytical engine.

From such a background it was perhaps unsurprising that for Viscount Ockham making a name for himself was going to be difficult but in many ways he rejected his background and sought work first as a sailor and then as manual labourer on the Isle of Dogs.

Harriet Beecher Stowe writer of Uncle Toms Cabin visited London in 1850s and met the Viscount at a social event, her impressions and those of Lady Byron gives some  insight into  his character.

There were a few persons present whom she thought I should be interested to know,– a Miss Goldsmith, daughter of Baron Goldsmith, and Lord Ockham, her grandson, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Lovelace, to whom she introduced my son.

I had heard much of the eccentricities of this young nobleman, and was exceedingly struck with his personal appearance. His bodily frame was of the order of the Farnese Hercules,– a wonderful development of physical and muscular strength. His hands were those of a blacksmith. He was broadly and squarely made, with a finely-shaped head, and dark eyes of surpassing brilliancy. I have seldom seen a more interesting combination than his whole appearance presented.

When all were engaged in talking, Lady Byron came and sat down by me, and glancing across to Lord Ockham and my son, who were talking together, she looked at me, and smiled. I immediately expressed my admiration of his fine eyes and the intellectual expression of his countenance, and my wonder at the uncommon muscular development of his frame.

She said that that of itself would account for many of Ockham’s eccentricities. He had a body that required a more vigorous animal life than his station gave scope for, and this had often led him to seek it in what the world calls low society; that he had been to sea as a sailor, and was now working as a mechanic on the iron work of “The Great Eastern.” He had laid aside his title, and went in daily with the other workmen, requesting them to call him simply Ockham.

I said that there was something to my mind very fine about this, even though it might show some want of proper balance.

She said he had noble traits, and that she felt assured he would yet accomplish something worthy of himself. “The great difficulty with our nobility is apt to be, that they do not understand the working-classes, so as to feel for them properly; and Ockham is now going through an experience which may yet fit him to do great good when he comes to the peerage. I am trying to influence him to do good among the workmen, and to interest himself in schools for their children. I think,” she added, “I have great influence over Ockham,– the greater, perhaps, that I never make any claim to authority.”

This rather romantic image is however contradicted by a New York Times newspaper report of 1860.

LORD BYRON’s GRANDSON AS A MACHINIST. — We lately published, as an item of foreign gossip, the somewhat curious fact that Lord Wentworth, a grandson of Lord Byron, was employed at Mr. John Scott Russell’s works. The Philadelphia Inquirer, assuming to speak with authority, publishes in reference thereto the following statement. It says: “When we saw Lord Ockham, now Baron Wentworth, a few weeks since, he was at work at the Thames Iron Shipbuilding Company’s establishment, at Blackwall, cutting bolts at 24s., or less than $6 a week. The Baron Wentworth is 22 or 23 years of age, and appears to inherit his grandfather’s taste for gin; but, as for his “taste and talent for mechanics,” those who know him best pronounce him a “poor tool.” It is true that he was employed for a while at Mr. John Scott Russell’s works, where his example to the rest of the hands was by no means worthy of imitation. He lodged with the head pattern-maker, to whom he had often expressed the strongest desire to become the skipper of a coal barge on the Thames, Lord Ockham ran, or walked, away from Scott Russell’s, to Aberdeen, 550 miles north of London, where for one month, he indulged his ‘taste and talent for mechanics’ in a menial employment in a machine shop. He then came to New-York, and worked there for two months in a machine shop, with the usual results — drunkenness and discharge. He contrived to get back to London, and may, very likely, have left the Thames Iron Shipbuilding Company’s Works, for better wages in Woolwich Arsenal. At Blackwall, he was often dead drunk, although he would then manage, to hoist the American colors over his lodging, to be hauled down, on the return of soberness, for the Union Jack. How much love there may be at the bottom of all this, we cannot say.”

Whatever his motivation for working and living on the Isle of Dogs it was not to last long for in 1862 at the age of 26 at Wimbledon Hill the Viscount died of a rupture of  a blood vessel.


Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The London Hospital


Once again I would like to thank Eric Pemberton for sending the following postcards of the London Hospital from early in the 20th Century.

The London Hospital was originally called the London Infirmary. In 1741 the need to expand was pressing and a plot of land was purchased in Whitechapel. By 1757 the new hospital was built and named the London Hospital.

During the 19th Century “The London” as it was known was increasingly important being at the centre of  some of the most over populated areas of the East End.


It was also at this time as a response to the many epidemics in the area that many medical breakthroughs were made and many lives saved.

One of its most famous residents was in 1886, when Joseph Merrick, the so called “Elephant Man”, who was being displayed in a peep show in Whitechapel. His case was taken up by Sir Frederick Treves a surgeon at the hospital, who later found him a home in the Hospital and where he later died.

lh 3

Until the creation of the National Health Service, the London Hospital was the largest voluntary hospital in the country which relied on local and national donations to continue its existence.

Performances by well known singers and celebrities were common as part of the fundraising campaign. The above postcard shows one such performance by Edna May who was a famous Music Hall singer at the time.

lh 4

During the First and Second World War, the hospital treated many militiary personnel as well as local people. It was also at the hospital that First World War heroine Edith Cavell undertook her nurse training.


The hospital always had close ties with the Royal Family and in 1990 the Queen allowed the hospital to use the title of The Royal London Hospital which it is now known.

Other Posts you may find interesting

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards Poplar and East India Dock Road

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs 2

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Isle of Dogs

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Limehouse

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.”

Fowl Play – The Story of the Millwall Poultry Club 1939


Checking the hen

Once again many thanks to Eric Pemberton who sent me this article that was published by the  Picture Post in 1939.

In this fascinating article, it is important to remember that in the time before  Television was widely available, people pursued numerous hobbies and interests. In the 1930s keeping Pigeons were very popular, however in Millwall it was obviously bigger birds that took their interest.


A team of Pullets and trophies.

left to right Mr Budd, Borough councillor,Mr W White steeplejack, Mr S Hayward railway shunter,

Mr Dave Love Jnr plater,Mr C Sieloff labourer,Mr Dave Hedley lorry driver.

School for Hens in the Isle of Dogs

Every Monday at Millwall,in the Isle of Dogs, forty men meet together for the evening.

What brings them together in their interest in fowls –the way which poultry should be bred, housed and looked after.

Towards eight o’clock every Monday evening in Millwall, a crowd of men can be seen making their way in twos and threes towards the L.C.C. Mens’s Evening Institute, in Glengall  Grove. Under the arms of some there are small crates. Each of these crates contains a fowl; a sick fowl in this one, a particularly healthy and beautiful fowl in that. These men are all members of the Millwall Poultry Club. By profession they are dockworkers, lorry drivers, steeplejacks, metalworkers or casual labourers.

On arrival at the Evening Institute they park their crates in the “classroom” and wait for the instructor to arrive. Some hold conversation with their fowls; others discuss the day’s news with their fellow members. As soon as the instructor appears, a piece of newspaper is spread over the desk in front of him, a sick bird belonging to one of the members is brought from the crate, and is stood up on the desk.

The members then take it in turn to make their diagnosis. First , the new students express their opinion, then come the veterans, They examine the state of the bird’s eyes, they analyse its droppings. Their diagnosis may be that its condition is due to bad feeding or bad housing. Alternatively they may trace symptoms of some organic disease. When the members have had their say, the instructor sums up.


Mr George Hedley washing with soap

One of the most popular lecturers at these classes is Mr W. Powell-Owen, the president of the Club, who is an internationally known judge of poultry. Sometimes it is his duty to preside at an inquest on a fowl that has died. In that case the dead bird is opened up in the presence of the class of the class, who take it in turns to try and discover the inflammation or growth or other cause of death.

This hobby of poultry breeding helps the members to increase their income and to make ends meet , apart from providing them with specialised interest and plenty of amusement. They keep their poultry in their backyards. They bring up their fowls to the Evening Institute to find out about their good and bad points. And how to feed, house and manage them.

All members are taught to keep fowls which will lay eggs and yet be beautiful to look at. “Beauty with Usefulness” is the club’s motto. The sale of the eggs enables many a member to take its family for a holiday.

The  members are encouraged to exhibit their fowls at shows and to keep only the best grades. They send the birds all over England and even to the continent. Before the show, every bird with white plumage has to be washed and shampooed, every black coloured fowl has to be sponged and have its legs manicured.


Mr C  Sieloff in his backyard

During the day, when their husbands are at work, the wives have to look after the poultry, and the instructor often makes the round to see whether all the chicks and hens are getting on all right.

The club has been running for eleven years, and members pay as little as 5s. 6d per annum. There are some forty members  – very much happier for having so useful a hobby.

Each year the members have a country outing , in company with their wives. But even on this occasion the club members show themselves to be serious minded on the subject of fowls. The morning of this day is invariably spent in looking over some well known modern poultry farm. The rest of the day is given over to the usual activities of an annual outing.


The instructor Mr W Powell – Owen

Although the” backyarders” of Millwall compete keenly with each other to rear the best birds, they are always willing to give each other help and advice between club nights , if a fellow members fowls happen  to be ailing.


Dave Love Snr ,Manicurist

One of the older members , Dave Hedley, has won so many prizes with his birds, that he decided to try rearing another breed, in which he had no experience , just to encourage the others.

Dave Hedley says that his fowls play a valuable part in balancing of the household budget . With the cash which he gets from the sale of his eggs, he can buy silk stockings for his wife and his wife can buy all the household food. And even then there is something left over.

The Millwall Poultry Breeders have remarkable successes at poultry shows. They sent a strong team of pullets to this year’s  International  Show at Antwerp. Each of their pullets won a prize, though unhappily , one of them , which many of the members believed to be the finest bird of the team, fell ill on the journey and died.

The Trudgen Stroke – The Sporting Legacy of John Trudgen


The Trudgen Stroke Part 1

Some of the great moments of last years Olympics were in the Aquatic Centre but how many people realize that one of the founding fathers of modern competitive swimming was born in Poplar.


The Trudgen Stroke Part 2

John Arthur Trudgen was born in Poplar in 1852, at the age of 11 he went with his parents to Buenos Aires in Argentina. John’s father was sent to Argentina by his employer Blyth and Co Engineers who were based on the Isle of Dogs.

Whilst he was in Argentina he would swim with the local children who used  a overarm swimming action rather than the more usual breaststroke.

When John returned to England in 1868, he developed the stroke he saw in Argentina to use in competitive swimming.

It is important to remember at this time Britain was the home of competitive swimming with many swimming clubs being formed and national championships being created.

In 1873 John Trudgen swam in a championship in Lambeth Baths and caused a sensation , a sports journalist R Watson writing in a sports paper the Swimming Record describes what happened.

 A surprising swimmer carried off the handicap we allude to Trudgen ; this individual swam with both arms entirely out of the water, an action peculiar to Indians. His time was very fast, particularly for one who appears to know but little of swimming, and should he become more finished in style, we shall expect to see him take a position almost second to none as a swimmer.

I question, indeed, if the swimming world ever saw a more peculiar stroke sustained throughout a 160 yards race. I have seen many fast exponents retain the action for some distance, but the great exertion compels them to desist, very much fatigued. In Trudgen, however, a totally opposite state of things existed ; for here we had a man swimming apparently easy, turning very badly, and when finished, appearing as though he could have gone at least another 80 yards at the same pace. His action reminds an observer of a style peculiar to the Indians ,both arms are thrown partly sideways, but very slovenly, and the head kept completely above water.

What Trudgen had done was to develop a version of the front crawl which gave him incredible speed over sprint distances and he soon dominated sprint races in many championships. John’s version of the crawl became quickly known as the “Trudgen” and quickly dominated the early years of competitive racing.

In 1875 Trudgen swimming for the Alliance Swimming club used his new stroke to win an English championship race at Edgbaston reservoir in 1875.

Many swimmers copied Trudgen but developed the stroke to get greater speed. The Trudgen stroke was also used in the sport of Water Polo.

Although the Trudgen was a major advance for competitive swimming , his achievements were overshadowed by the exploits of Captain Webb in 1875.

Captain Webb’s swim across the English channel was national and international headline news and his exploits dominated the swimming world rather than the competitive swimming scene.

In the years up to the first Olympic games the Trudgen stroke was being developed and dominated competitive swimming over the sprints and middle distances.

Trudgen himself faded from the racing scene and found work as a fitter and machinist in the Isle of Dogs and Woolwich Arsenal. It was in Woolwich that John Trudgen died a relatively forgotten man in 1902.

If the man himself was forgotten, his name was being used extensively in the Swimming World where his stroke was being constantly refined and dominating the early Olympic games.

Even when the stroke becomes overtaken by front crawl style,  in freestyle  the name of Trudgen is still used up to the present day.

John Trudgen’s role in the development of modern competitive swimming was recognised when he was chosen to be inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame  in 1974.

The citation records why:

John Trudgen

FOR THE RECORD: Introduced the “trudgen” stroke he picked up from South American Indians to England in 1875; the stroke was considered a breakthrough in modern swimming.

A few days apart, in the same month and year (August, 1875), Capt. Matthew Webb swam the English Channel (21 miles in 21 hours and 45 minutes) going all the way breaststroke, and John Trudgen of the Alliance Swimming Club of London won the English 100 yards Championships at the Edghaston Reservoir in 1 minute and 16 seconds. Trudgen swam with his own version of a stroke he picked up from the South American Indians. Ninety years later Roy Saari of the University of Southern California won more NCAA Championships than any swimmer in U.S. College history using a stroke called the Trudgen. While Trudgen won his English Championship at 100 yds., his stroke was considered too strenuous for distance. Twenty-five years later, the advent of the crawl stroke also considered too strenuous for distance, relegated the Trudgen to a middle distance and distance stroke. With sprinters using some version of Alick Wickham’s “crawl” everybody from 200 yds. and up used the Trudgen at least until Norman Ross, a triple Trudgen winner at the 1920 Olympics. After 1920 most winners used the crawl, but almost anything else that passes for freestyle is still called “The Trudgen” ( a sidestroke leg thrash that accommodates a turn onto the side with a breathing pause in the arm stroke).