Folly House 1805
On the east side of the Isle of Dogs is Folly Wall whose name is a reminder of a Gentleman who came to a tragic end and of a famous tavern.
The Gentleman was a Thomas Davers, a son of a famous admiral who decided to build on this spot “at great expense” a small fort. Considering the Isle of Dogs was largely uninhabited at the time this seemed an odd undertaking.
The Gentleman’s magazine of 1767 gives us further details.
he built at great expense a little fort on the Thames near Blackwall known as Davers’ folly, and that shortly before putting an end to his own life he wrote this on a card : Descended from an ancient and honourable family, I have for fifteen years past suffered more indigence than ever gentleman before submitted to ; neglected by my acquaintance, traduced by my enemies, and insulted by the vulgar, I am so reduced, worn down and tired, that I have nothing left but that lasting repose, the first and dernier inheritance of all.
Of Laudanum an ample dose
Must all my present ills compose
But the best Laudanum of all
Want (not resolution) but a ball
NB Advertise this T.D.
Considering he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Thames in 1754, there was no doubt the story was well known and had a certain notoriety considering it was still mentioned 13 years later.
The Horringer Parish Register gives a few more details but is less than sympathetic.
Thomas was the one surviving son of the Admiral. He was educated at Bury Grammar School. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he too had been laid in some churchyard within a year of his birth. Like several of his Davers cousins, he seems to have been of an eccentric and unhappy turn of mind and to have come to an untimely end.
After Thomas Davers sold his folly in 1754 due to financial difficulties , the property was taken over and a few years later turned into the Folly House or Folly House Tavern and became well known as a drinking establishment .
Folly House Tavern on 1840 map
Even when the West India Docks were built, the house was always rather secluded and according to certain Old Bailey records was frequented by some dubious characters.
Thomas Gibbins who was the landlord in 1792 tells the court about a break in.
I live at the Folly-House, Blackwall . About 10 o’clock, on Easter Sunday, I heard some people at my door; I unbolted it directly, and three or four men forced me down; I do not recollect who; when they knocked at the door first, they threw something over my head; I was afraid to look up or open my eyes, as they swore they would blow my brains out; they asked me what money I had in my pocket; I said about two guineas, or two and a half; they took my shoe and knee buckles; they asked me what money I had in the house; I told them I had three or four guineas in my bureau. I lost nine gowns, they were my deceased wife’s, two pair of gold wire earrings, and several silk handkerchiefs; the silver watch and gold rings were mine; they took three or four guineas; they stayed in the house between four and five hours. I was released at three in the morning.
A Swedish sailor recalls being mugged in 1814
ANDREW WESTERLAND. 1814 I am a seaman . I live in Fennington street. On the 14th of September I was attacked and lost my money. The Swedish consul sent me at night to work on board the ship. The next day I went to a public house to get a pot of beer before I went on board.
Q. Where is that house? – A. It is called the Folly House, Blackwall. It was six o’clock when I went down there in the evening; I was attacked by the prisoners when I came from the public house, between seven and eight. The prisoners stopped me, there were three of them; one of them stepped back.
However it was not all violence, a certain Thomas Pennant on a journey from London to the Isle of Wight in 1801 recalls passing the Folly Tavern and considered its reputation for Whitebait dinners.
We passed by the Folly, a small house of entertainment, which, during the season, is, with the taverns at Greenwich crowded with epicures, to feast on the little fish called white bait. These White Bait appear in July, in this Reach, in multitudes innumerable ; and, fried with fine flower, afford a delicious repast.
In the 19th Century especially, the Folly House became an important reference point to people sailing along the Thames being one of the few houses built overlooking the river on the Isle of Dogs
Folly House 1845
However by the end of the 19th Century wide scale development began to take place and the Folly House was eventually demolished in 1875.
Folly Wall is now a series of residential buildings, however nearby retaining some of the spirit of the past is a modern folly, the wonderful Storm Water Pumping Station.