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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Power of the Sun – Turanor Planet Solar in West India Dock


I could be accused of waxing lyrically about the old tall ships that visit West India Dock, however todays visitor the Turanor Planet Solar shows I can get equally excited about modern ships.


Looking like it has come from a science fiction stage set, the Turanor Planet Solar  is probably one of the most remarkable ships to visit the Docks.


The Planet Solar was launched in Kiel in 2010 is registered in Switzerland and it cost around 12 million Euros to build and was financed by a German entrepreneur. The name Tûranor, derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings, translates to “The Power of the Sun”.


Designed by New Zealander Craig Loomes , it is a catamaran which has a light carbon structure and powered by 6 blocks of Lithium- ion Batteries. It has 516 square metres of Solar panels.


There is no doubt it is the biggest solar run ship in the world and it showed its capabilities in 2010 by being the first ship to travel around the world powered exclusively by solar energy. More recently it has created a new record for travelling across the Atlantic whilst carrying out scientific expeditions.


The ship is in the dock till Monday when it will be going across the channel to Paris.


solar 3

The Fishing Smack Tavern in Coldharbour – A History and a Mystery


Charles Napier Hemy, R.A., R.W.S. (1841-1917) Cold Harbour, Blackwall 1896

Coldharbour in Blackwall is one of the most unusual streets in Docklands, it was once part of the old Blackwall that followed the river until it reached Trinity Buoy Wharf.

However the construction of the West India Docks and the City Canal in the early years of the 19th Century effectively cut off Coldharbour from the rest of Blackwall.

There has been buildings on the site since the 17th Century, but two of the better known is the Gun public house which still exists and another tavern called the Fishing Smack which has been demolished but had a curious history.

There had been a tavern on the site since the 1760s, firstly called the Fisherman’s Arms before changing its name in the early 19th Century to the Fishing Smack. We know it was called the Fishing Smack in 1808 due to the following report in The Gentleman’s Magazine

As a young woman, a servant in the FishingSmack public-house, Cold Harbour, Blackw’all, was standing on the steps leading to the River, she was so much alarmed by a flash of lightning , that she fell in the river and was unfortunately drowned.

The change of name probably reflected the arrival of Fishing Smacks from Great Yarmouth who frequented this spot when selling their catches in London. This trade and the area was known to Charles Dickens who had written about the other Taverns in Blackwall such as the Artichoke and Plough that were known for their Whitebait dinners. Although Dickens did not write directly about the Fishing Smack, he did use characters in his books that could have had their origins in this  area.

George Haw recalls walking around this area in 1907 with well known local MP Will Crooks and having the following conversation with some old characters that used to work this stretch of the river.

“Ah!” exclaimed the other, fetching a sigh; “but don’t you remember that old Yarmouth fisherman who used to bring his smack round here from the Roads and sell herrings out of it on this very Causeway?”

“Remember! What do you think? That was the old man who would never keep farthings. In the evening, when he’d got a handful in the course of the day’s trade, he would pitch them in the river for the boys to find.”

“Likely enough,” interposed Crooks. “I mudlarked about here myself as a lad.”

The eldest of the ancient watermen would have it that this old boy from Yarmouth was the original of Mr. Peggotty, and that it was at Blackwall Dickens first made his acquaintance. He said he had often seen Dickens himself about those parts.

We ventured a doubt.

“Why, bless my life!” he cried; “ain’t I talked to him at the Causeway here many a time?”

This, of course, was unanswerable, so we asked what Dickens did when there.

The ancient waterman thought a moment.

“What did Dickens do?” he ruminated. “Now, let me see. What did Dickens do? I know: Dickens used to go afloat!”

The other declared that Dickens did more than that: he would often go into the fishing-smack.

We immediately assumed that it was the fishing-smack of the old Yarmouth salt that was meant. We were wrong. It was another “Fishing Smack,” one of the quaint old taverns by the river still standing in Coldharbour.

Mr Peggotty of course was a character from David Copperfield  and it was not impossible  that Dickens could have met some of the old Yarmouth fisherman at this very spot.

Although the old tavern was rebuilt with a frontage onto Coldharbour in the  early 20th Century, it did not regain its glory days and was eventually demolished after the Second World War.

And that leaves us with a mystery for although Coldharbour  has escaped much of the recent developments of the Docklands, there has been modern developments.

However standing at Number 9 Coldharbour  is a line  of brown shiny bricks that seem strangely out of place with the well attended houses nearby.

This line of bricks is the last remains of the Fishing Smack tavern , but why is it still there ? A local writer recalls being told that the last owner of the pub sold the land but demanded that a small part of the old pub must remain.

Whether this is true or not, nearly 70 years later we still have a strange small reminder of the historic tavern.


The only remains of the Fishing Smack


Stad Amsterdam Tall Ship and Thames Boats in West India Dock


After the recent visits  of Gorch Fock and the Amerigo Vespucci tall ships , we welcome another tall ship the Stad Amsterdam. She will be a familiar sight to many, having visited the dock  a number of times in recent years.


The Stad Amsterdam (City of Amsterdam) is a three-masted clipper that was built-in Amsterdam in 2000.


The ship was designed by Gerard Dijkstra basing his design on the 19th century frigate Amsterdam, however although she looks like 19th Century ship she is fitted with modern materials which means that she was fast enough to win the 2001 Cutty Sark Tall Ships’ Race.


The Stad Amsterdam is used as a training ship and can be hired for charter, in 2009 she was used by Dutch Television to retrace the second voyage of the HMS Beagle.


She is a fully rigged tall ship with an overall length of 76 m, height of 46.3 and over 2000 square metres of sail. She usually operates with a crew of 32 and can accommodate 120 passengers for day trips and 58 for longer journeys.


In a rather crowded West India Dock was a rally organised by the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs, formed in 1949 it now represents over 50 member motor yacht clubs and is dedicated to protecting the navigational and general interests of all Thames boat users.





Clipper Round the World Yachts in St Katherines Dock

DSC03618In the picturesque setting of St Katherine’s Dock sit the twelve 70 foot racing yachts due to take part in the Clipper 2013-2014 Round the World race.


The race itself starts on September 1st from London Bridge and will be the first time in 40 years that the Thames staged a round the world sailing event.

Sunday 1 September:

1000 – Official departure ceremony starts

1300 – 1330: Parade of Sail on the Thames


The fleet will not return until July 2014 after 670 crew race 40,000 miles and visit 16 ports on six continents, in the world’s longest ocean race.

The first leg of the Clipper Race ends in Marina da Gloria, Rio de Janeiro, the destination for the 2016 Olympic sailing events. They then continue on via South Africa, Western Australia, Sydney (including the world-famous Sydney-Hobart Race), Singapore, China, San Francisco, Panama, Jamaica, New York, Derry Londonderry and the Netherlands before returning to London’s St Katharine Docks for Race Finish in July 2014.


What is unique about the race is that the crew is made up of professionals and amateur sailors of all abilities allowing anyone to experience this once in a lifetime adventure.

Just around the corner from the Clipper Yachts is the Gloriana which played an important part in the Queen’s Thames Pageant last year.


“Lost” London by the Sea


Wellington Clock Tower in Swanage.

Even the most ardent Londonphile  needs to get away from the City occasionally and the recent sunshine encouraged me to go the south coast.

After the joys of Bournemouth and Poole it was time to visit Swanage  on the Isle of Purbeck.

Swanage as a typical seaside resort is probably the last place you would consider to have connections with London but walking around the town leads to number of discoveries that reminds us of a connection with Swanage  and Victorian London.

In the Victorian period. John Mowlem a  resident of Swanage, became a successful builder in London, creating the Mowlem construction company.

He made his fortune in London by importing stone into the city  including Purbeck limestone.

Mowlem and his nephew George Burt began to buy  relics and monuments in London and sent them back  to Swanage often using the stones as ballast for the empty vessels returning from London.


One of the largest monuments was a  big clock tower . This  clock tower was built to commemorate the Duke of Wellington, as a newspaper at the time remarked it was to be important London landmark.

clock illustrlonnews1854

Illustrated London News 1854

A new clock, placed on a high tower, is to form a prominent feature of the south side of London Bridge. Out of that spirit of idolatry of which the people do not seem to tire, this clock is to bear the name of Wellington. It will scatter light over the large space occupied by the entrance to the great railway lines which have their common station at London Bridge and will be seen at night a beautiful and conspicuous object, like the lighted turrets of the Panopticon, from many parts of London. The tower will be seventy feet high and forty feet broad at the base ; and the clock, having four illuminated faces, will turn one of its discs to each quarter of the metropolis.

it was designed by Arthur Ashpital and built-in 1854 at the southern approach to the old London Bridge. However within 10 years it was considered an obstruction to traffic  and had to be removed. It was re-erected 1867-68 on its present site at the end of the bay.


The Mercers Hall façade on the Town Hall

Another extraordinary item transferred to Swanage was the façade of the Mercers’ Hall from Cheapside in the City of London, the façade originally built-in 1676  is used as part of the Swanage Town Hall.


Other items used in a local building, Purbeck House were marble chippings from Albert Memorial, an archway from Hyde Park Corner and floor tiles from the Palace of Westminster.


Perhaps the most bizarre items is to find City of London Bollards behind the Town Hall.



Paintings of the London Docks 1939 – 1945

(c) Adam Rowntree; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts Canteen Concert, Isle of Dogs, London, E14 by Kenneth Rowntree – IWM (Imperial War Museums) 1941

At the beginning of  the Second World War, the War Artists Advisory Committee was created to look at ways that Art could be used to support the war effort.

The Committee was led by Sir Kenneth Clark , Director of the National Gallery  with the remit of documenting the conflict, raising morale and promoting national culture.

It was recognised that the original war artist scheme in the First World War had played an important role and Clark bought together a number of well known artists and commissioned work at home and aboard.

Artist such as Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland and Stanley Spencer produced works,however there was a large number of artists who used the conflict to record the day to day existence of ordinary people.

In this small selection of paintings it is interesting  that some convey very clearly the despair and the determination of a people under attack.

(c) James Methuen-Campbell; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Invasion Craft Being Built in the West India Docks, 30 May 1944
by Paul Ayshford Methuen – IWM (Imperial War Museums -1944

(c) Museum of London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Night Raid over London Docklands by Wilfred Stanley Haines
Date painted: 1940–1945 Museum of London

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Food Van at the Royal Docks, London Women’s Legion
by Elsie Gledstanes 1940 Imperial War Museum

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Long Night: London Blitz  by Arthur R. Harrison IWM (Imperial War Museums)
Date painted: 1942

(c) Victoria Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

London Dock Fires, 1940 by Helen Lavinia Cochrane
Victoria Art Gallery  Date painted: 1941

Big Eagle, Barges and Berlin


Last year when the Olympics were taking place, West India Dock was crowded with Super Yachts.  The arrival of the Big Eagle in West India Dock attempts to bring a bit of that glamour back to West India Dock.

Big Eagle was a regular visitor to the Cannes Film Festival and hosted a number of  Festival parties. However recently she was sold and now is used as personal yacht for her new owner.


Although built-in 1980 , she had a major refit in 2004 , there is luxury accommodation for up to 12 guests and has a crew of 10.


She has a Length of 172′  (52.43m), Beam: 26′  (7.8m) and Cruising Speed of  12 knots.


Also in West India Dock is around 15  Barges, part of a rally organised by the DBA (the Barge Association )


Many are Dutch barges which are already popular in the UK  as  houseboats or venues, Millwall Dock has a number of Barges resident and near the Museum of Docklands there is the Leven restaurant.


There is a wide assortment of barges which a few times a year come together for rallies both in the UK and on the continent.


Finally to close our nautical post, I just happened to be walking near the Blue Bridge when the Cruise Ship Berlin was passing the O2 on its way to Tower Bridge.



Urban Retreat – The Story of Mudchute Farm and Park


For many people  the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf symbolises high tower blocks and high density living, however this is a very recent phenomenon up to the mid 18th century the vast majority of the Island was uninhabited and used as pastures for animals. Even considering the Island was mostly pastures,the creation of Mudchute Farm is however tied into a by-product of the building of the docks.

The large open space where the Mudchute Farm and park now stands was once grazing land. However during the building of the Millwall Docks in 1865 much of this land was used for storing the bricks that were used to build the dock walls and buildings. During construction of the Millwall Docks in 1865–7 the land remained a brickfield,  However  after the docks opened in 1868 the land was once again used  for grazing.

This changed in 1875 when The Dock company developed  an innovative system of dredging its docks designed by the company’s engineer, Frederic E. Duckham. This involved the pneumatic transmission of mud, out of the dock into a pipe which ran under East Ferry Road to be deposited on the grazing land creating a mudfield. Over time the mud accumulated to create small hills and bumps, however towards the end of the 19th Century there was concerns when the Mudfield was considered a health hazard and steps were taken to close the pipe which was discontinued in 1910.

Gradually the hardened mudfield became known as the Mudchute and was later used for allotments . At the beginning of the war the land was used for gun placements.


An Ack- Ack gun in the farm to celebrate its role in WW2

After the war various schemes were put forward for the use of the land , however it was not until 1973 that the site was transferred to the GLC to be used for housing. However there then began a campaign by local residents and supporters called the Association of Island Communities who wished the land to be used as public open space , the success of this campaign led to the creation of an urban farm in 1977.


In 1977 the Mudchute  Association was formed to preserve and develop the area which they have done by adding to the existing fauna and flora to provide a diverse environment that attracts all forms of wild life. It was somewhat ironic that the mud that had caused dismay to many people was full of nutrients that provided good growing conditions for many plants.

Farm  animals have been introduced over the years to give visitors a variety of experience, there has always been an educational aspect to the Associations work and close ties have been developed with local schools and other community groups


Since its creation Mudchute Farm and Park has developed into one of the largest City Farm in Europe covering 32 acres and is maintained largely by local volunteers. It is also been supported by many firms based at Canary Wharf.


Stables and Cafe

It is a testament to the people who fought for the creation of the farm and the volunteers who have maintained it that it is now widely considered one of the finest City farms in Britain enjoyed by thousands every year.

Thoughts of a Idle Fellow – Jerome K Jerome in Poplar

jerome k jerome

Perhaps one of the most popular books about the Thames is Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, however It may be a surprise to many people to know that Jerome spent much of his childhood living in Poplar. His father had a business in Narrow Street in Limehouse and rented a house in Sussex Street (now Lindfield Street). Jerome was about four when he moved from the Midlands to live in Poplar. His initial memories were not particularly happy  being targeted by the local children.

My recollections are confused and crowded of those early days in Poplar. As I grew older I was allowed to wander about the streets a good deal by myself. My mother was against it, but my father argued that it was better for me. I had got to learn to take care of myself.

I have come to know my London well. Grim poverty lurks close to its fine thoroughfares, and there are sad, sordid streets within its wealthiest quarters. But about the East End of London there is a menace, a  haunting terror that is to be found nowhere else. The awful silence of its weary streets. The ashen faces, with their lifeless eyes that rise out of the shadows and are lost. It was these surroundings in which I passed my childhood that gave to me, I suppose, my melancholy, brooding disposition. I can see the humorous side of things and enjoy the fun when it comes; but look where I will, there seems to me always more sadness than joy in life. Of all this, at the time, I was of course, unconscious. The only trouble of which I was aware was that of being persecuted by the street boys. There would go up a savage shout if, by ill luck, I happened to be sighted. It was not so much the blows as the jeers and taunts that I fled from, spurred by mad terror. My mother explained to me that it was because I was a gentleman. Partly that reconciled me to it; and with experience I learned ways of doubling round corners and outstripping my pursuers; and when they were not actually in sight I could forget them. It was a life much like a hare must lead. But somehow he gets used to it, and there must be fine moments for him when he has outwitted all his enemies, and sits looking round him from his hillock, panting but proud.

As he grew older he loved to walk around the area and often had many adventures which included a meeting with Charles Dickens in the nearby Victoria Park. This was one adventure when he was walking near the East India Docks that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

There was a strange house I came upon one afternoon, down by the river. It was quite countrified; but how I got there I could never recollect. There was an old inn covered with wisteria. A two-horse ‘bus, painted yellow, was drawn up outside. The horses were feeding out of a trough, and the driver and conductor were drinking tea—of all things in the world—on a bench with a long table in front of it. It was the quaintest old house. A card was in the fanlight, over the front door, announcing “Apartments to let.” I was so interested that I concocted a story about having been sent by my mother; and asked to see the rooms. Two little old ladies answered me. All the time they kept close side by side, and both talked together. We went downstairs to a long low room that was below the ground on the side of the road, but had three windows on the other, almost level with the river. A very old gentleman with a wooden leg and a face the colour of mahogany rose up and shook me warmly by the hand. The old ladies called him Captain. I remember the furniture. I did not know much about such things then, but every room was beautiful. They showed me the two they had to let. In the bedroom was a girl on her knees, sweeping the carpet. I was only about ten at the time, so I don’t think sex could have entered into it. She seemed to me the loveliest thing I had ever seen. One of the old ladies—they were wonderfully alike—bent down and kissed her; and the other one shook her head and whispered something. The girl bent down lower over her sweeping, so that her curls fell and hid her face. I thanked them, and told them I would tell my mother, and let them know.

I was so busy wondering that I never noticed where I walked. It may have been for a few minutes, or it may have been for half an hour, till at last I came to the East India Dock gates. I never found the place again, though I often tried. But the curious thing is, that all my life I have dreamed about it: the quiet green with its great chestnut tree; the yellow ‘bus, waiting for its passengers; the two little old ladies who both opened the door to me; and the kneeling girl, her falling curls hiding her face.

If Jerome’s first impression of the East End was not favourable as he got older her returned more and more to find inspiration for his stories especially Paul Kelver his autobiographical novel.

They say a man always returns to his first love. I never cared for the West End: well-fed, well-dressed, uninteresting. The East, with its narrow silent streets, where mystery lurks; its noisome thoroughfares, teeming with fierce varied life, became again my favourite haunt. I discovered “John Ingerfield’s” wharf near to Wapping Old Stairs, and hard by the dingy railed-in churchyard where he and Anne lie buried. But more often my wanderings would lead me to the little drab house off the Burdett Road, where “Paul Kelver” lived his childhood.

Unlucky Isle of Dogs – The Pirates Gibbet


18th Century Gibbet in Museum of Docklands

One of the more grisly aspects of the Isle of Dogs  in the 18th and 19th Century was when  a set of gallows  stood at the bottom of the Island. It was a familiar sight to many arriving in London by the river to pass by the rotting corpses of Pirates and other criminals at strategic points along the Thames.

It was at nearby Execution Dock in Wapping that many executions took place, however after the event the corpse was often covered in pitch and tar and put into a Gibbet and strung up. The Gibbet  was built to keep the corpse in place even when it decomposed therefore a body could be on display for years.

Gibbeting or  “Hanging in chains ” as it was called was part of the justice system that believed murderers and other serious offenders should not have the benefit of a proper burial but their bodies should either  be used for dissection or be put on public display to act as a deterrent. Cuckolds Point in Rotherhithe, Blackwall Point opposite Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs were popular sites for these public display of pirates, selected for their clear view from the river to remind the many mariners who passed by the perils of becoming a pirate.

The exact spot of the gallows on the Isle of Dogs  is not known but the 1746 Roque map shows it clearly marked  a short distance from the old Ferry House  opposite Greenwich


William Hogarth in his Idle Apprentice series of drawings in 1747 offers a much clearer view of the scene.


The Idle Apprentice companions are pointing to the gallows as a warning what would happen to him if he didn’t change his ways. The drawing clearly show the windmills on the Isle of Dogs at the time and the gallows next to the River.

A Reverend Mozely in his ” Reminiscences,”  remembered travelling past the Island in 1820.

In 1820, and for many years after, the only inhabitants of the Isle of Dogs that I ever saw were three murderers hanging from a gibbet.

Although Samuel Pepys had christened the Island as the unlucky Isle of Dogs in the 1660s, it was in the 18th and 19th century that  the south part of the Island began to gain a reputation as a uninhabited windswept marsh with a ghostly atmosphere. Obviously rotting corpses clanking in chains in the river mists did little to challenge this preconception.

However some people benefitted from  this grisly spectacle, for many years the Greenwich pensioners who lived at the Naval Hospital would set up their telescopes at the top of Greenwich hill and charge people to look at the scene across the river.

This pastime was especially lucrative at the time of the Greenwich Fair when thousands of people crowded in Greenwich to enjoy the revelries.

Charles Dickens noticed the practice was still going on in 1839 when he visited the Fair.

The old pensioners, who, for the moderate charge of a penny, exhibit the mast-house, the Thames and shipping, the place where the men used to hang in chains, and other interesting sights.

Dickens said used to hang, because a few years earlier in 1834 after new legislation the gallows had been taken down and the practice stopped. Needless to say many of the pensioners complained that one of their little sidelines had been curtailed and some newspapers at the time took up their cause.

In 1858 a newspaper reporter discussing Public Executions remembered the practice.

Some few semi-barbarities indeed remained, of which the pillory has but recently disappeared ; that of hanging in chains, designed as an indignity to the dead and a terror to the living, was, we think, not extinct till about forty years ago. Old men amongst us will well recollect the numerous gibbets on the Isle of Dogs, which with here and there a bone bore witness to the commonness of the practice.

From the 1840s the river front on the Isle of Dogs was developed and ship builders and factories were set up and all evidence of the Islands grisly past was destroyed.

Well perhaps not all the evidence for in recent years a skull and skeleton were found on the foreshore near Burrell Wharf which would have not been too far away from the gallows.