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Monthly Archives: May 2013

French Fleet arrive in West India Dock


Friday saw the arrival of four French Navy training ships  they are all Leopard class

A751    Lynx
A752  Guépard
A753  Chacal
A754 Tigre

The purpose of the visit seems to be a bit of a mystery , but it is rumoured four other ships will be arriving later.




Guepard and Tigre


Lynx and Chacal



The Dirty British Coaster – The Story of the SS Robin


The Dirty British Coaster was  immortalised in John Masefield’s poem ” Cargoes .”

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

The British coastal cargo steamships were the workhorses of the Merchant fleet in the late 19th, early 20th Century around the ports of Britain and Northern Europe. However by the 1960s they had all disappeared.


Well nearly all ,and that brings us to the story of the SS Robin, a story that takes us as far away as Spain but has many connections to the Isle of Dogs.


SS  Robin  1890s

SS Robin is a traditional raised quarterdeck coastal cargo steamer built at the famous Thames Ironworks, in Orchard House Yard on the eastern tip of Isle of Dogs and launched in 1890.

She was built to high standards regarding materials and workmanship with her hull fitted out in East India Dock. From there she was taken to Dundee to have her boiler and engines fitted. After trails she was taken to Liverpool to begin her career as a coastal steamer in 1890.

For the next ten years she plied her trade around the ports of Britain and occasionally some of the continental ports carrying the heavy cargoes such as coal, steel and china clay for which the steamers became famous for.

However in 1900, she was sold to a Spanish owner who renamed her Maria and spent the next 70 odd years going up and down the North Atlantic coast, she survived Two World Wars , once getting an escort from the French Navy to protect her from U Boat attacks.

But then at the end of a hard working life and due to be scrapped, there was another twist of fate she was recognised by the Maritime  Trust as a one of a kind and in 1974 was purchased and travelled back to Britain under her own steam.SS_Robin_2005

In West India Dock 2005

From 1974 she was given her original name back and moored in St Katherine’s Dock and her restoration began. In 1991 she moved to West India Quay where between 2003-2007 she was used as a Education Centre and Gallery. When she moved into West india Quay she was barely a mile away from where she was built in Orchard Place therefore she really was coming home.

However more structural restoration was needed, so in 2008 she went back to the coast this time to Lowestoft to prepare for her latest reincarnation as a floating museum in the Royal Docks.

In 2011 she returned to the Royal Docks still only a  mile away from where she was built to prepare to be finally  unveiled to the public in  2014.

She may still be a Dirty British Coaster of John Masefield’s poem but now she is in elite company.

She’s part of the National Historic Fleet and one of only three ‘Core Collection’ (Grade 1) vessels in the capital. The other two ships are the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast.

And next week she will have a Royal Visitor when The Duke of Edinburgh will visit the ship on June 5th.

The Duke was an important part of the campaign to save her forty years ago and will unveil a plaque to inaugurate the Ships new permanent home.

To find out more about the SS Robin press here

Other Posts you may find interesting.

Water City – The SS Robin Heritage Mural

Water City – The SS Robin Heritage Mural


Living on the Isle of Dogs, being near the water is part of the everyday experience, we are surrounded by it with the Thames and large parts of the Island are taken up by the docks.

Therefore I have been intrigued by the work of the Water City projects especially the ‘Water City Murals’. a new mural painting social enterprise for East London.

The first part of the project is the 90 metre SS Robin Heritage Mural currently underway in the Royal Docks close to the SS Robin.


The theme of the Mural is the history of the SS Robin and the Royal Docks in five parts :


The first 50 metre section has been designed and created by artists in residence Frank and Nick Creber working with the SS Robin history team and volunteers.


A second section of 12 metres will be painted and designed by the local community


A third section of 5 metres will be painted by the local Britannia Village Primary School,

A forth 12 metre section will be printed on aluminium composite sheet with photos and architects’ illustrations showing future plans for SS Robin, and a final 12 metre section will contain singular images that emerge out of the whole process of the mural project.


It is great to see  the incredible history of the docks bought to life in Art , the colourful and vibrant mural captures some of the manic activity that symbolised  the docks in their heyday.


Although still work in progress it is undoubtably  worth a visit.


If you want to find out more about the project press here

Another Time at the Grapes – New Thames Sculpture in Limehouse


A new piece of sculpture has appeared on the Thames foreshore in Limehouse. But rather than the usual fanfare, the new arrival has been quietly put in place.


Entitled Another Time it is a life size figure by the well-known sculptor Antony Gormley creator of the iconic Angel of the North.

The piece was rumoured to be acquired by Sir Ian McKellen and now takes pride of place behind his pub the Grapes.

It is part of a series of figures created by Gormley which have been put human figures next to water.


Standing on top of a post the figure will look at certain times that it will be standing on the water, but will never be fully submerged.

Some of the best views will be from the river, however it can be viewed from Dunbar Wharf.

Or of course you can go into the Grapes itself and view from the small terrace at the back.





From Mudlarks to Sailortown – A Decade of the Museum of Docklands


The Museum through the replica of the West India Docks Gate

As the Museum of Docklands celebrates its first decade in existence it is important to pay tribute to the people whose forward thinking bought a derelict historical industrial building into public use.

One of the pleasures of visiting the Museum is to be able to see the old warehouse in all its glory.

No 1 Warehouse where the museum is housed was originally designed and built by George Gwilt and Son  in 1800 -1803. It was significantly added to by Sir John Rennie in 1827.  It was originally part of a complex of huge warehouses that were a half a mile long. unfortunately only Warehouse 1 and Warehouse 2 remain due to the rest of the complex being destroyed by bombing in the Second World War.

warehouse 1

The West India Dock Warehouses in 1921 before they were destroyed.

Although the warehouses are now dwarfed by the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, when they were built they were considered a source of national pride when the docks became one of the centres of the trade between Britain  the rest of the world.


Warehouse No 1

The Museum charts the role of the Docklands from its beginnings to the dark days of the Second World War and to the eventual decline of the Docks and the growth of Canary Wharf.


The Old London Bridge

Amongst its highlights are a 1:50 scale model of Old London Bridge , many articles from the Docks, a gallery about the Blitz including an Air-raid shelter  and Sailortown a full size reconstruction of the dark and dingy streets of Victorian Wapping. In Sailortown you can visit a local tavern or look through the window of the Animal Emporium.


Welcome to Sailortown


The Local Tavern


The Animal Emporium

Young children have their own section called Mudlarks which has a play area.

Other than the exhibits the museum is a bit of a cultural centre with regular events , there is also a popular Café and Shop.

Its exhibits are not all inside, there are still relics of the old docks around the warehouses not least the statue to Sir Robert Milligan directly outside.  In the dock itself is a couple of boats belonging to the museum.


The museum is one of the hidden treasures of the Isle of Dogs and although not on the scale of the bigger London Museums it provides hours of entertainment for young and old.

Britain from Above – Limehouse, Blackwall and Poplar 1929,1931


West India Dock, Blackwall and Poplar. 1929

To follow up from the previous post about Britain from Above, I  thought I would look at some areas surrounding the Isle  of Dogs. If the Isle of Dogs has changed considerably, the same certainly could be said of Limehouse, Blackwall and Poplar. It is worth remembering that within 10 – 15 years many of these areas were devastated  by bombing which makes these pictures all the more important.


On one of the photographic flights Aerofilms spotted the famous Graf Zeppelin LZ – 127 flying over Limehouse in 1931. The Graf Zeppelin  127 was one of the most famous airships of its day going around the world in 1929 and flying over the Arctic in 1931.


Limehouse Basin in 1929

li 4

A wider view of Limehouse with Narrow Street bottom right and St Anne’s Church at the top


Another view of Limehouse

li 7

The Graf Zeppelin 127 over East India Dock , Orchard Place to the right.

li 8

Another picture of the Zeppelin over East India Docks

li 9

Blackwall and Canning Town 1929

li 10

Poplar 1929

Previous Posts on this subject

Britain from Above – Isle of Dogs 1934

To go to the Britain from Above Website  press here

Britain From Above – Isle of Dogs 1934


An Aerial view of the Docks 1934

Some weeks ago I posted an article about the Bombsight project which tried to chart where many of the Bombs fell in World War Two.

The Britain from Above project is yet another incredible website that is making available thousands of aerial photographs taken above Britain between 1919 and 1953.

Not only do you get access to the photos on the website, you can play an active part identifying many of the locations.

To give you a taste of what is available here are some of the latest photos of the Isle of Dogs in 1934.


Millwall Dock 1934


South Dock 1934


Cubitt Town 1934


Millwall Dock – Flour Mill 1934


Millwall Dock from South 1934


Millwall 1934

To go to the Britain from Above Website  press here

Rule Britannia – When Blackwall ruled the Waves


Cavalry Embarking at Blackwall, (probably Perry’s Dock ) 24 April 1793

by William Anderson 1793 (National Maritime Museum)

Anyone who walks along the river near  Blackwall and the Virginia Settlers Monument could be forgiven for believing it is a bit of a backwater, however for over 400 years this was the site of great importance for British Naval history for it was in this spot that hundreds of  Merchant and Royal Navy ships were built that helped to forge an Empire.

Blackwall’s  location just before the bend of the Isle of Dogs and its popularity as an anchorage from which travellers embarked and disembarked was important from as early as the fifteenth century.

However Blackwall also became known in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for ship repairs, a number of royal ships were repaired most famously the Mary Rose who was repaired here in 1514.

Shipbuilding was rarely undertaken until 1614, when the East India Company decided to build a shipyard at Blackwall. The building of the dockyard was to cope with the demand in trade  in which the company quite often rented their ships out to rich merchants.

In 1652 the East India Company sold Blackwall Yard, to the  shipwright Henry Johnson  who extended the dockyard.

Samuel Pepys working for the Royal Navy commissioned a numbers of ships from Blackwall in the late 17th Century from one of the largest private shipyards in the country.


Launch of the ‘Venerable’, 74-guns, at Blackwall, Francis Holman 1784 (National Maritime Museum)

HMS ‘Venerable’ was launched in April 1784 at Perry’s yard in Blackwall.

In the 18th Century, Blackwall was taken over by the Perry family who continued to build and repair ships for the East India Company and for others.It was the Perry family that built the Brunswick dock that opened in 1790.


View of Mr Perry’s Yard, Blackwall by William Dixon 1796 (National Maritime Museum )

In 1803 the East India Dock company bought part of the site including the Brunswick dock to turn int0 the East India Export Dock.


The Mast House and Brunswick Dock at Blackwall by William Daniell 1803 (National Maritime Museum)

Eventually Perry’s was taken over by Wigram & Green  who in 1821 built their first steamship and the internationally famous Blackwall Frigates.

frig 1

The Blackwall Frigate ‘Maidstone’ at Sea by H.J. Callow 1869 (National Maritime Museum)

Blackwall Frigates was the common name for a type of three-masted full-rigged ship built between the late 1830s and the mid-1870s. The first Blackwall Frigates  were built by Wigram and Green at Blackwall to replace the East Indiaman ships that had been built on this site for centuries. Although not as quick as a “clipper” they were still used on the long voyages between England and Australia.

Wigram and Green eventually became just Greens who became famous for building Naval vessels including the first Iron ship the HMS Warrior built in 1866.

BlackWall London 1872 cHarles napier henry Museum of London

Blackwall, London 1872 by Charles Napier Henry ( Museum of London )

At the beginning at the 20th century the site became too small for the larger ships and although still shipbuilding and ship repairs were carried out they were in much smaller scale than the sites heyday. Nevertheless the site remained active under different management till 1989 when most of the docks were filled in and buildings built on the site.

Blackwall’s  illustrious past is generally  forgotten, however there is no doubt that Blackwall was for centuries one of the most  important maritime sites in Britain.

The Tichborne Claimant – The Strange Story of Arthur Orton


The story of the Tichbourne Claimant  has all the elements of a Victorian Melodrama, but it  illustrates in many ways real life is stranger than fiction.

Roger Charles Tichborne was born in Paris  in 1829. He was bought up mainly in France, although the Tichbourne family home was in Hampshire.

In 1854, Roger Tichborne now heir to the family fortune  boarded a ship, the Bella bound for New York,  but less than a week later, the Bella was lost at sea and  in 1855 Roger was declared dead.

Roger’s mother Lady Tichborne however refused to give up hope and sent messages to be printed in newspapers around the world asking for further information about Roger’s fate.

In 1865 an Australian solicitor contacted Lady Tichbourne with the news that a man claiming to be her son had contacted him.

The man who contacted him was called Tom Castro a butcher from Wagga Wagga , although Tom Castro was a larger build than Roger Tichborne when he had disappeared there was some physical likeness.


Lady Tichborne sent for Castro who arrived in London in 1866, when she met him she declared he was Roger Tichborne and set him up in England with a generous allowance. Other people connected with the family declared Castro was Roger Tichbourne.

Other members of the Tichborne family however were not so convinced. They employed agents to travel the world to check Castro’s story and they discovered that Castro was actually Wapping-born butchers son Arthur Orton who had left England, jumped ship in Chile and ended up eventually in Australia.

To resolve the conflict of whether Castro was Roger Tichborne or Arthur Orton, some of the Tichborne family took his claim to court, therefore beginning one of the most celebrated legal cases of the nineteenth century.

The first trial  Tichborne v. Lushington was a civil trial to establish Orton’s claim to the Tichborne inheritance, after a year it was decided Castro was not Roger Tichborne but was Arthur Orton.

Although  “The Claimant” as Castro/Orton was known had lost the case and the trial had polarised public opinion in the country and a considerable number of people  showed their support by contributing money to the Claimants defence. Although many the newspapers of the day were convinced Orton was a fraud, there was many people who thought that “the Claimant”  had been  treated unfairly.


Arthur Orton

In 1873 the Claimant  faced  a perjury trial, Regina v. Castro, Once again the verdict went against  Orton  and  he was convicted of two counts of perjury and sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour.

In the end  Orton served ten years in prison gaining freedom in 1884,  for the next couple of years Orton travelled  around Music Halls trying to make a living from his celebrity, It was also claimed he had confessed to a newspaper that he was Orton for a substantial amount of money. But when this money had run out he withdrew this confession.

Eventually interest in the case eventually waned and Orton lived in poverty till he died in 1898.

Many questions have been raised about the strange story of Arthur Orton, How did a butchers son from Wapping became involved in this elaborate fraud ?  Why was the country so divided on the case ? Even today there are still some people that still believe Arthur Orton  was the real Roger Tichborne.

Even in the death of Arthur Orton there was a final twist to the story, the coroner, his death certificate  and a coffin plate all named him as Sir Roger Tichborne.

As a newspaper of the time stated

The Judges of the High Court were two years in determining that the living Tichborne was Orton. The Registrar of Births and Deaths determined in two minutes that the dead Orton was Tichborne.’

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Victoria Park


Once again many thanks to Eric Pemberton for this fascinating series of postcards from the early 20th Century.

Victoria Park is a large park originally laid out by architect Sir James Pennethome between 1842 and 1846, previous to being a park the area was known as Bonner Fields named after Bishop Bonner , the Lord of the Manor of Stepney.

The Park is bounded on two sides by the Regent’s Canal and the Hertford Union Canal

The park was opened to the public in 1845 and quickly became a vital piece of greenery amongst an overcrowded East End.

It quickly became an important  meeting place for political and other meetings.

It is also the site of  two pedestrian alcoves  which taken from the old London Bridge which was demolished  in 1831.



The drinking fountain was donated by Baroness Burdett- Coutts in 1862.

From the early days of the park there was a large number of amenities which included Lakes, cricket grounds and athletic areas such as the Gymnasium.


St James the Less was built in 1842, was damaged in the Second World War.


Thomas  Parmiter was a wealthy Silk Merchant in East London  in the 17th Century who left funds for a school in Bethnal Green. The School grew on a number of sites until the 1970s when the Parmiter School relocated to Hertfordshire.

Part of one of the Parmiter school buildings was taken over by Raine’s Foundation School.

Other Posts you may find interesting

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The London Hospital

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