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Bittersweet Seventeens – Rosie Johnston


Rosie Johnston

Last year I  interviewed  local poet and author Rosie Johnston, recently I  was delighted to hear that her latest collection of Poetry has just been published by Lapwing Publications.

Rosie who lives on the ‘Island’, has had a number of books published in recent years but Bittersweet Seventeens is her third collection of Poetry where she uses her own particular style of poetry using seventeen syllables for each verse.

Johnston_Bittersweet cover

Rosie explains how this particular collection came about.

I never thought I’d be a published poet. I’ve been writing fiction and journalism for nearly twenty-five years now and thought that was it. In 2009 I had a contract for a third novel (to follow The Most Intimate Place, Arcadia 2009) and was looking forward to writing it. I even got a first draft done. Then life got in the way. Divorce, moving home twice, my father fell over in Belfast and after a ghastly time in hospital, he passed away. Then I had to wind up his estate. In the middle of all that, the new novel got lost.

What forced their way through instead were little poems, just seventeen syllables long, and Bittersweet Seventeens is my third collection of them. They’ve all been published by Lapwing Publications and I’m very proud to be a Lapwing poet.

Why seventeen syllables? It’s not as if eighteen would kill me. People (especially poets) keep encouraging me to write something longer, something more like theirs. So my second collection Orion (Lapwing, 2012) was one long poem telling a universal love story – and every verse has seventeen syllables. What about writing a normal poem, the poets kept saying, a bit of free verse maybe. I tried and couldn’t make it work. Meanwhile readers were saying that they really liked the seventeens and could they have more.

So here they are, Bittersweet Seventeens. I love the discipline of compressing as much thought and skill as I can into that short space and hope readers will enjoy them. They’re described as a poem sequence; that just means you can take them individually, or gorge the lot at once like a whole box of chocolates. It’s up to you.

I have made my own selection of a few verses from the collection to give you a flavour of Rosie’s work which I hope you will enjoy.


‘My darling, my darling, my

Love, my love’: Gentle in his final words.


Sibling: the act of having

Nothing in common

But genes and quibbling.


Seventeen on the seventeen bus,

She skips

School to kiss the driver.


She chanced a look, risked a

Kiss and lived

To rue her date with a chancer.


Our Christmas fir lies by the bins,

Dwindled, nude,

Slave to our brief pleasure.


Her prize-fighter heart is down. Stares


Up at the ropes. Bewildered.


To her neighbour in Hades –

‘Does the drink

Keep you down here?’ ‘It helps, aye.’


Another happy day. Let’s bless

Each second’s

Golden gift: survival.

If you would like to buy a copy of Bittersweet Seventeens , they are available at the Lapwing website here.

Rosie also runs some very successful writing groups in Greenwich and Cambridge, such is the popularity of the groups that new dates are being added all the time.

If you wish to buy some of Rosie’s other work or want to find out more about her writing groups please go to her website here

Other Post you may find interesting

Looking at Orion – An interview with Rosie Johnston

George Burchett – King of the Tattooists


George ‘Professor’ Burchett – King of the Tattooists

In writing a previous post I came across the work of George Burchett who was widely acknowledged as King of the Tattooists. Now I must confess I have never seen the attraction of Tattoos but was surprised that what is seen as a modern phenomenon has a long history and the East End was home to one of the most famous Tattoo Artists.

George ‘Professor’ Burchett was born George Burchett-Davis on August 23rd 1872 in Brighton, little is known about his family but according to his ghost written memoirs he got expelled from school for tattooing his classmates and joined the navy at 13. As a deckhand on the HMS Vincent he travelled the world and practised his Tattooing skills. He then allegedly jumped ship and travelled around the world.

edith 1920

His wife Edith 1920s

How much of this colourful backstory is true is hard to say, however there is evidence that he opened a cobbler’s shop in Mile End and carried out tattooing in his spare time. He also got married in 1898 and lived in Bow with his wife Edith.

At around this time he received some training from well known English tattooists Tom Riley and Sutherland MacDonald. It is also been said he bought a tattoo machine from Riley and started tattooing full time. With a large number of sailors and dockers, Mile End and Limehouse was  probably a good area for a tattooist and there is no doubt that in the first few years of the 20th century, George began to build up his reputation as high class tattooist. In 1910 George is mentioned in a newspaper report  in a strange story about a man who dies in an accident in a lift.

A Tattooed Man

 At the inquest on July 6 on William Charles Mirza Mendo, a cellarman, who was killed in a lift accident at the Carlton Hotel, London, where he was employed, it was stated that he was tattooed all over his body. George Burchett, a tattooist, of Waterloo road, said that he had tattooed Mendo, who lodged with him, and Mendo had intended to exhibit himself. A photograph was produced of the top of Mendo’s head, where an excellent picture of King Edward had been tattooed. Other photographs showed that on the man’s back, the ‘Home of the Gods’ had been tattooed in various colours. On his chest was a ^large eagle fighting with a snake. In the centre of his forehead was a crown between the letters, ‘E.R.’ On the arms were snakes and dragons, and on the legs Japanese women in five colours. (1910)


Business must have been going well because this report mentions that he has a studio in Waterloo Road as well as his studio in Mile End. If business was good then, when the First World War started there is evidence that tattooing became really popular amongst servicemen and increasingly women. Our next newspaper report finds George’s business expanding again and he gives some insight into some of his customers.


Mr Burchett  tattooist. is one of the busiest men in London. – He has recently opened a second establishment near his original “consulting room” in the Waterloo road.,so as to be able to ornament indelibly the arms and bodies of the men of His Majesty’s forces. “I have twice as many clients now as I had before the war.” he told a “Weekly Dispatch” representative the other day. “Most of them are soldiers or sailors, but some of them are young women, who want portraits of their soldier sweethearts tattooed on their arms. “A good many soldiers bring me photographs of their girls to tattoo: but this is not always wise, because sometimes it’s a case of off with the old love, and you can’t get her off your arm.

“Very smart these.” said  Mr Burchett admiringly. “Takes only ten or fifteen minutes to have any of  them on your skin for life. It’s wonderful when yon think of it.”I draw the design on the arm, and this electric needle does the rest. The days of tattooing with an ordinary needle are over.   “Seven and sixpence gives you a nice, smart. patriotic design but, of course, if you want a portrait and perhaps two heads with an arrow through them, or something tasty like that, it costs more.” (1917)

It was around this time that George begins to be  known as the “King of the Tattooists” and begins to become sought out not only sailors and soldiers but by Royalty and the “upper classes”.

Among his customers  were King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King Frederick IX of Denmark and  George V . A large number of society women made their way to George’s studio due to his development of cosmetic tattooing  which sparked a bit of a craze.


Women are having the roses of youth tattooed in their cheeks. When this is done; delicate complexion will not fade with the passing of years. Luxuriant ‘eyebrows’ can be shaped and the soft shades which beauty cultivates drawn under the eyes. Lips, too are made shapely; but this is only one aspect of the strange life of a tattooist as revealed to a Press Association reporter by Mr G Burchett who has just tattooed a will on a man’s back.
Men, it seems also have beauty which is all too often only skin deep. They come to have red noses turned to a more becoming hue; pale faces made ‘sunburnt’ bald regions covered with silky locks. Girls will have the initials of their lovers with a posy of forget-me-nots or some other ( emblem tattooed on their legs or arm where it will not be visible. Life-like pictures of sweethearts are often tattooed on chests. An Irish Guardsman had a dotted line put around his throat with the inscription ‘Cut round dotted line.’
Two permanent ‘black eyes’ were given to an American boxer; who seemed to regard them as a badge of office. Roses were put on a sailor’s ears. Two men had respectively pictures of King Edward and King George drawn on their bald heads. Dancing girls and others were drawn all over another man. American sailors had the names of all ports they had visited written down their legs. A lady of seventy just had her nose whitened and her complexion tinted said Mr Burchett. (1929)


He was so famous, he was featured on a Cigarette card

In the 1930s George’s status as one of the most famous tattooists in the world was endorsed by appearing regularly  in newspapers, and  radio and in 1938 on a BBC Television programme.

Televised Tattoo Demonstration

1938 at the BBC

Although George considered retirement, the Second World War created a great demand for Tattoos and he was as busy as ever.

Newspapers of the time were fascinated by George’s work ,

The war has brought prosperity to tattooists In England. Initials of wife or sweetheart or mother enclosed In a heart used to be the usual formula, but this has now given place to a series of more intricate designs.
Soldiers have the initials intertwined with the badge of their regiment: sailors prefer an anchor as the frame of their initials; while airmen have them set between wings.
“But it isn’t only love-tokens that we are doing now,” said Mr  G. Burchett, who has been tattooing for 36 years. “‘It is identification marks of one sort or another. Young men just called up want to be identified on their own skin. You’d be surprised at the things I have done,” (1940)

George is busier now than he has been in 40 years of practice. He tattoos identity numbers and blood groups on servicemen. (1944)


Even after the war, business did not  allow George to slow down as he had a large number of requests from people who had been held captive by the Germans.

The girl from Auschwitz can never blot out her wartime slave memories, but the figures the Germans tattooed on her arm have gone. it was blotted out by Mr George Burchett, London tattooist. He has removed hundreds of tattooed numbers put on prisoners by Nazi gaolers.
At last the Americans and Russians liberated her, but the tattooed number still made her  a prisoner in herself. The 73-year-old George Burchett, Waterloo Road tattooist, treated her arm, saying: ‘It’ll be gone in a little more than a week. Keep it covered up.’ The girl from Auschwitz said she would gladly keep it covered up. ‘It’s nothing to pay for you.’ said George. (1948)

George carried on working up to 1953 when he died, his death was widely reported.

The king Mr Burchett decorated in his own indelible fashion, was Frederick of Denmark, who now has a fine green dragon needled all over his chest. Secrets aplenty came to this star of British tattooers. Once he inscribed a 200-word will on a man’s back. Once he worked in reverse and erased a concentration camp number from a girl refugee’s arm. Many times he applied permanent rosiness to the lips and cheeks of London’s society women. And the secrets were safe with Mr Burchett. He took them to his grave. (1953)

One secret was the identity of an unusual customer.

Who is The Tattooed Judge?

One mystery in England will probably never be solved now — the mystery of the tattooed Judge.
He was the best customer of King of Tattooers George Burchett — until the Judge’s body was so covered with designs that there was no room for more. All over from his shoulders to his feet, the judge wore an intricate pattern of roses, butterflies and dragons. One more tattoo — ‘ and the prisoners in the dock would have known  his secret. Now the identity of the Judge is never likely to be revealed. George died last week, and he took with him the name of one of his most distinguished customers. (1953)

George’s work is still highly respected today in the Tattoo world, I think that is because he was a well respected  artist who used designs from all over the world. This and his professional demeanour bought a bit of respectability to a  profession that had  more of a  ‘back street’ reputation, for these reasons alone he probably deserved his title as King of  the Tattooists.

French Navy Ship Andromede in West India Dock


Andromede M643

The winter months is a lean time for visitors to West India Dock, therefore it is a pleasure to welcome the French Navy ship Andromede into the dock today.


The Andromede (M643) is an Eridan-class Mine countermeasures vessel  that was built as part of  a Tripartite fleet of ships undertaken by the French, Belgian and Dutch navies.


The Tripartite class of mine warfare vessel were built in the 1980s , the Andromede  was built at Lorient shipyard and entered service in 1984.


The ship saw action in the Gulf war in 1991 and is presently based in Brest.

Last year, West India Dock welcomed a number of French Navy ships of this type when they were on exercises.

There is currently no information why the ship is here or for how long.


Memories of Poplar High Street – David Mitchell

blackwall stairs 1931

Ship off Blackwall Stairs 1930s ( Museum of London )

Recently I have come across a number of authors who have written books about Poplar and the Isle of Dogs. Today I would like to introduce you to another author David Mitchell whose book “A Boy from Nowhere ” is an account of his boyhood memories in the East End  especially around the docks.

David has very kindly sent me some of his memories of Poplar High Street and the Queen’s Theatre, in particular,  in this first part of his reminiscences David and his friends show some initiative to earn some extra pocket money which they spend  at the local cinema.

I wonder how many people recall Poplar High Street and the Queens Theatre before the war?  Saturdays was always the day we kids looked forward to.  It began with our little gang of boys and girls when we tried to make a few pennies by collecting drift wood washed up on the shore at the very historical Blackwall Stairs and chopping it up for firewood which we then sold at 1d per bundle.  But the supply was unreliable and so we had to find an alternative option to earn some money.


A street scene depicting Pennyfields Road, leading towards Poplar High Street. H. Doe.

St John Adcocks Wonderful London 1926/27

This opportunity came when the LCC, our saviour, announced that free disinfectant was to be given to the poor people of East London to encourage hygiene and cleanliness.  But the depot where the disinfectant was doled out was at the other end of Poplar High Street, near Limehouse and Chinatown – almost a mile away I would say.  That was a long trek for mothers and other older ladies to take and so we kids had the idea of establishing a ‘disinfectant service’.   We got up early every Saturday and we went round the houses and flats busily collecting empty bottles and making notes of our ‘customer’s’.  Our little wagon which was made from an old wet fish box with a plank of wood nailed to the bottom to which we nailed a small cross piece on the front part with a swivel bolt, then a small piece of wood to the rear and then we attached four wheels; this enabled us to guide the contraption. I must say it was an ingenious way to control the ‘vehicle’ but I am not sure now whose idea it really was. Anyway, our cart could take 24 normal size bottles (we charged a little extra for larger bottles).  I think there was another small piece of wood at the front which served as a rough kind of seat – this was for the ‘guider’.  Of course we all wanted to be guiders and not pushers but it usually happened that the bigger boys guided and we smaller ones pushed,

originalarapoff 1935

Street scene in Poplar, East London Children playing in a street in Poplar c. 1935. Arapoff (Museum of London)

Once loaded with our empties, off we went right to the top of Poplar High Street near to Chinatown and Limehouse – the High Street  was used initially to go from the West India Docks to the East India Docks and in it’s hey-day was a very busy street indeed. Many shops, cottages, old blocks of flats, pubs could be found there.  But when the bigger, wider, East India Dock Road was built in the 1800s so usage of the old High Street declined and was never the busy thoroughfare it once was.  Nevertheless, it was an important street and still contained the Poplar Library, the Mortuary, one side of the Recreation Ground, an old church school and other places of interest – including the old and renowned Queens Theatre and Music Hall in what I would term the lower part of the High Street.

poplar high st1920s

Poplar High Street 1930s

Our charge for this service was 1d per bottle, and so, after we had delivered our bottles to our customers we then shared out the money.  So that meant we had 2 shillings to share between us. So how much each child had was dependent on the number who assisted. But sometimes, if it was only four of us, we had a whole sixpence each. For kids who were jolly lucky to get ha’penny a week from our fathers, and nothing at all when he was out of work, that was indeed a lot of money in those days and people today would be amazed at what sixpence (2.5 new pence) could buy back then.

lgrand cinema

Grand Cinema 1920s

A little later in the morning we would usually go to the ‘tuppeny rush’ as we called it, i.e. the cinema or movies. Mostly we went to The Grand Cinema on the corner of Robin  Hood Lane and East India Dock Road, because The Pavilion, a little further along, was a little more posh and therefore more expensive. I think it was 3d to go in there as against 2d only at The Grand.  Before going in we would buy a bag of roasted peanuts and maybe an apple and an orange from the fruit lady – it depended, as always, on how much we had to spend.  There we would sit munching away watching our old favourites like Tom Mix and Buck Jones – these were our best known cowboys.  We called them “the Goodies” but the rustlers and bank robbers we called “the Baddies” and then there were a lot of comedies featuring Our Gang starring Alfalfa Switzer, (what terrific and very funny little actors they were),  the Keystone cops, Charlie Chaplin etc. There were a number of others too but I cannot now remember them.


Our Gang (Alfalfa Switzer on the right)

We boys all fell in love with dear little Shirley Temple when she began in films.  She was only a very tiny tot but was quite obviously a very talented child – one could see that from the beginning of her career when she was only 3-4 years of age. But we munched away and cheered our heroes too – it was a racket and quite deafening.  When the programme was over we trooped out but, my God! – what a mess we left behind us!  There were mountains of peanut shells, apple cores, orange peel, etc.  The cinema had to be ready for the adult afternoon performances and I expect the cleaners cursed us kids uphill and down dale for the work we had caused them.

David has written the story of his life in a book called A  BOY FROM NOWHERE – It is written in two volumes and can be purchased via Amazon, or from MELROSE BOOKS, ST THOMAS PLACE,  ELY. CAMBS.  Phone: 01353 646 608.
He has also written another, single book, account of  The East End called THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS but this is  presently only available on Amazon’s Kindle.
For further information  visit A Boy From Nowhere website click here

Bare Backs, Tattoo’s and Green Hair – Valentine’s Day 1914

best 1914

1914 Valentine Day Postcard

Whilst researching an article, I came across the following “amusing”  newspaper article from a seemingly carefree period just before the horrors of the First World War.

It  illustrates  that whilst every generation thinks they are “modern”, in reality very few things are “new”.


February 14, 1914.

In these days of competition the members of the fair sex adopt all manner of schemes where by they can attract attention. They have been slowly undressing for some time, and we have been wondering ,when this kind of thing is going to stop.
But it isn’t going to stop. The ladies of this little isle never do things by halves. With them it is either a question of overdressing or under dressing, and the latter is the rage just now.
Probably because the law is so very strict, the hobble fig-leaf has still to become fashionable. But our womenfolk are coming very near to it. The unrobing act has started in the photographer’s studio, and we shan’t be a bit surprised if some daring female brings it into the street in broad daylight.
The very latest fad among fashionable women is to have their backs photographed. Don’t think that I am referring to backs made shapely and picturesque  by means of silks and laces and guinea corsets. I mean the natural back, the  bare-skin back, or, if you will have it. the naked back.
The back, from the waist to the shoulder-blades, is stripped of all that has hitherto hidden it, and that back poses before the camera. I have heard it said that pictures of bare-skin backs are exceptionally charming. I suppose it is a question of what is good ought to be seen.


The Scandalous bare back of 1914


I don’t want to suggest that the ladies who have already had their back skins photographed are in any way immodest. All I can say is their action is apt to make men ask each other -what on earth is going to stagger them next.
This bare-skin back craze will probably be come as popular as the Tango, and photographs of plump backs, thin backs, square backs, and round backs will grace our mantelshelves and knick-knack tables. Husbands will carry photographs of their wives’ backs in their letter cases; and some enterprising journal will offer a prize for the best photograph of a female back unadorned.
Two or three years ago the ladies of Paris got tired of having their faces photographed. .They took their shoes and stockings off and had their feet and ankles snapped by the man with the camera. A few ladies, more daring than the rest, had their limbs reproduced on sensitised paper and mounted on fancy cards. This little game stopped at the knee. I believe the fair damsels of the Gay City finally realised that a service of Sevres with nothing on it is less appetising than a petite marmite.


George Burchett (King of the Tattooists) at work


  It appears that some women are not content with the way Nature has made them. Pink flesh doesn’t satisfy them. They want their skins decorated. At the moment the fashionable ladies of St. Petersburg are having tiny. figures painted on their faces, necks, chests, and backs, elephants, trees, and geometrical figures being’ the commonest patterns. These “pictures,” which revive the idea of the old beauty patch, were introduced by the Russian woman painter, Nathalie Gourthakoff.  The tattoo craze has come over here, and our women are having portraits of their pet animals tattooed on their arms, ankles, shoulders, and chests:? Mr Alfred South, a well known’ tattooist, has already tattooed pictures of horses, dogs, cats, and birds on the skin of women, and a short time ago he reproduced a photograph of a pet rabbit on a lady’s shoulder.
Perhaps the undressing craze and the tattooing craze will combine forces and throw the dressmakers out of their jobs. Maybe the fashionable woman of the near future will do without clothes altogether, and have her dress tattooed on her skin. Futurist designs would probably look very well.


Olive May Meatyard was an actress who became Countess Drogheda


Two Society leaders have already appeared in public wearing coloured hair. At a recent Covent Garden ball Lady Sarah Wilson caused Society to gape by complacently coming with a luxuriously dressed coiffure of mauve-coloured hair. The astonishment became hopeless amazement when the Countess of Drogheda also dropped casually in with her hair plainly of a vivid blue colour. -(And, by the ways Miss Madge Mackintosh the actress now playing in a Shavian play at the Little Theatre, also wears green hair,) . Spectators who were overcome, and who vowed to give up the drink in the future, were gently led away. Their perturbation was quietened when they heard the explanation that coloured hair for women was now. “the very latest thing in fashion.” Now, members of the fair, the frail, the fascinating sex, you know that you must not rush out and buy yellow, or pink wigs, or have your hair dyed those colours they might not suit you.
You must at least stop’ to read the following code as a guide :- – Green hair is suitable for brunettes. – ‘ Mauve is just the thing for blondes. Rose-coloured hair may be safely worn by brunettes, also magenta coloured hair.
Pink, purple, and yellow should never be dreamed of except by fair women. ,These are the rules laid down by experts:. said Mr Willie Clarkson, the famous theatrical costumier. This new fashion, which is accepted in many quarters as a permanent feature of English Society ladies, will provide a new and fascinating hobby for the  “nut.” He will now be able to fill his pocket-book with a rainbow of souvenir locks of hair, which will add “colour” to the story of his conquests. It may come as a disappointment to many to know that coloured hair is unlikely to become the vogue among the middle and lower classes. It would be too expensive for the average purse. Coloured wigs cost as much as from three guineas to 21 guineas each.

The Story of the London “Fifty” by Anthony L Holmes


Melbourne Police Force 1860 (Victoria Police Museum)

Many people know that convicts were transported to Australia in large numbers, it was estimated that between 1788 and 1868 around 164,000 convicts made the journey.

However  recently I have been contacted by Anthony L Holmes to inform me of a lesser known story of the Fifty London Policeman who went to Australia in 1853 to preserve “Law and Order .”

Although Anthony has lived in Australia since 1982, he was born in Orpington, Kent  but used to travel regularly to Poplar to visit his grandparents. When he left school  he served  his  apprenticeship at prestigious Heals & Son in Tottenham Court Road with  weekly visits to The London Collage of Furniture in Commercial Road in the 1970s. After his apprenticeship he worked  as a  French Polisher in a number of  furniture factories in and around the East End including  Younger Furniture, Monia Road, Bow and H & L Epstein at Hanbury Street / Brick Lane.

Anthony has written an account of what happened to these adventurous police pioneers and especially of one of Anthony’s ancestors, a Wapping policeman called James George Judge.

The London Fifty

With the discovery of gold in Victoria, Australia in the 1850’s, the small local police force was quickly overwhelmed. Immigrants flooded into the colony, and many police abandoned their posts to pursue dreams of riches.

On one day in November 1851, 50 of the 55 members of the Melbourne City Police resigned, leaving the force in a state of total disarray. Various experiments in recruitment were trialled in the early 1850s, the least successful of which was the recruitment of military pensioners from Van Diemen’s Land, described by one police official as ‘the most drunken set of men I have ever met with’.

Efforts to recruit trained police from England met with more success, with 50 men who had served in the London Metropolitan Police, known as the ‘London Fifty’, enlisted in May 1853.

whistler wapping wharf1859

Wapping Police station by Whistler 1859

One of the  ‘London Fifty’ was a James George Judge born  1831 in Saint George in the East to parents William and Elizabeth Judge.  He came from a distinguished Policing family in Wapping , his father William Judge and his uncle Joshua Judge were both Thames Police Inspector’s .

James George Judge had joined the Metropolitan police in 1850 initially his beat included policing the docks, however he suffered a family setback a year later when his father William died of a heart attack at Wapping Police Station.

We don’t know what effect this had on young James, but  soon afterwards he applied to undertake a ten-year stint working as a policeman  in Australia and in 1852, he and 49 other policeman were selected to serve in the Victorian Police in Melbourne to maintain Law and Order in the Gold Fields of Victoria.

This group of Policeman were affectionately known as the “London Fifty” they all resigned from the Metropolitan Police on the 10th December 1852 and they were paid a half a year’s salary in advance 34l 4s 8d.

The London “Fifty”  travelled by steam train to Baltic Wharf in Plymouth, Devon where they remained for two weeks training while awaiting for a suitable tide. They finally set sail on an emigrant ship called Earl Gray on the 14th January 1853.  This vessel had been commissioned to transport the Police to the colony of (Port Melbourne), Victoria, Australia.

James George Judge and the other policemen arrived in Melbourne on the 2nd May 1853.

However it was not long after the arrival that problems began to surface, the Police group began to complain by refusing to abide by the local police regulations in so far as the hours of duty were concerned, they “avowed their willingness to do duty according to London time and hours under which they were engaged and would never submit to Melbourne time and such duties as being asked of them”.

This got sorted out quickly when they were reminded that under their contract they were to serve a minimum of 5 years with a penalty of 50 pounds for any breach of contract—-they were reminded of this penalty which resulted in the “revolt” being quelled very quickly.

They, as a group were apparently not highly thought of due to being “foot police”, the hierarchy had a preference for mounted police to be used in both the gold fields and the metropolitan areas. The group as a whole appears to have been distributed primarily in the metropolitan districts.

By October 1853 of the original fifty, twelve had deserted and another  twenty-eight  could not be traced. Of the 14 that stayed in the force, 10 later became sergeants, with 2 rising to the rank of Inspector.

Their senior London Officer was Inspector Samuel  Edward Freeman, who later became a J. P.

To understand why there was so much dissatisfaction amongst the recruits it important to see their role in the Gold fields which was totally unlike the policing they had carried out in London.

The Local Government of the day were building up “Law & Order” using the imported Police to “police” the Gold Fields.


Gold License ( Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum)

The gold licence system caused considerable unrest on the diggings. It was regarded as a tax and greatly resented since it was applied regardless of the success or failure of the digger. However, the gold commissioners and Police known as ‘traps’ enthusiastically policed the gold fields, checking on licences and arresting and fining the unfortunate diggers who could not produce them. The Police ‘licence hunts’ were often brutal, corrupt, unfair and inefficient. These licence hunts came to symbolise the government’s oppression of the diggers and directly led to major protests on gold fields in Sofala in 1852, Bendigo in 1853 and the Eureka Rebellion in 1854. A year after the Eureka Rebellion the gold licence was replaced by a Miner’s Right which cost one pound a year for the right to dig and also entitled the owner to vote in parliamentary elections. Peter Lalor, the miner’s leader at Eureka was elected to the Victorian parliament.

During the gold rush of the 1850s, policemen collected taxes for the government and policed unlicensed miners. On Sunday, 3 December, 1854, miners unhappy with the gold licensing system and the administration of the goldfields at Ballarat barricaded themselves in what became known as the Eureka Stockade. A military force, including 94 police, attacked the miners’ camp. Up to 30 rebels were killed and four soldiers died. No police lost their lives but the events of that day are forever etched in Victoria Police history.

It is unclear exactly  how many years James George Judge remained in the Victorian Police service as the paper trail runs thin.  However his marriage to Margaret Bertrie Spence, on the 3rd of  July 1871 age 40 shows his occupation as an Innkeeper, eventually they had ten children together.

In 1875 James was granted land and become a Gold Miner at Bairnsdale, Victoria allotment 1C, Cobungra, Victoria on 29 Jan 1875.  Four years afterwards sources from Victoria government gazettes tells us James must have run into trouble for not paying land tax and the land was sold off at the Golden Age Hotel on the 29th August 1879.


The James Flood Book of Early Australian Photographs. Golden Age Hotel, Omeo, Victoria 1850

There is evidence that James George Judge remained as a Gold Miner in Sunnyside, Omeo until he died aged 78 of natural causes on the 7 September 1909 in Glen Valley, Omeo Highway, Victoria,


Sunnyside, near Omeo in 1920 [picture]. Harvey, J. H. (John Henry), 1855-1938, (photographer)

He was buried in  Glen Wills Cemetery , North of Omeo and South of the Mitta Mitta township. This Cemetery is now cared for by the people of the nearby Glen Valley.


Glen Wills Cemetery (Photographer John Smith descendant to James George Judge.)

The story of how a Wapping policeman ended up as a Gold miner in the outback of Australia is a reminder of the many people who especially in the 19th century left these shores never to return.

We will probably never know if any of the London “Fifty” ever made it back to Britain or if any struck “Gold” whilst in Australia.

But Anthony’s story makes sure that  a  hidden chapter  of  London police history  is not  forgotten.

Memories of the Isle of Dogs, Part Two – David Carpenter

london metropolitian archives 1969

The Gun 1969

Today I am delighted to publish the final part of the Memories of the Isle of Dogs by David Carpenter, in this part David recalls his association with a famous pub and witnessing a rather strange natural phenomenon in the graving dock.

As my apprenticeship progressed, the Gun tavern became my local, in those days its bars were quite small and it was almost classed as a criminal offence not to be there on Xmas Eve lunch time. By midday it would be packed out and the floor would be ankle deep in broken glass with the revellers who couldn’t maintain the pace being carried through to the snug to recover.

Luckily the Gun still survives, albeit catering for a different type of patron. The narrow cobbled lane known as Coldharbour where the Gun is located still exists despite the massive redevelopment of the surrounding area.

In the 1950s the area of land encompassed by Coldharbour and Preston’s Road was partly used by the Graving dock transport department and builders yards together with derelict storage space.

The riverside of Coldharbour was bordered by a couple of very nice properties and a row of old cottages in need of modernization and at the southern end just before the ‘Gun’ was the river police’s  Poplar station. Below the ‘Guns’ terrace was the outlet from Graving Docks Dry Dock. This culvert followed the course of Coldharbour’s southern extremity, bordering what I was told was an old burial ground, then under Preston Road to the pump room at the southern end of the drydock.

Before the pump was installed, the dock was emptied by gravity; this meant that it could only be emptied when the tide was out. Once the pump had been installed, the dock could be pumped out at any state of the tide, thus increasing the turnaround of ships using the facility.

Quite regularly when the dry-dock was pumped out we found fish , usually roach , and the occasional pike , trapped in the drainage gutter near the pump room, whenever we could we returned them into Blackwall Basin. Some mornings under certain conditions with the mist rising off Junction Dock, the surface of the water would be blood red, closer inspection showed that millions of tiny red worms had risen from the depths; they would be visible for about 10 minutes before disappearing. With this in mind it was evident that the fish had an ample supply of food within the enclosed docks.


Millwall Dry Dock 1951

I often worked in the dry-dock adjacent to ‘Badgers’ ship repair yard in Millwall, this dry dock could accommodate larger ships than the Graving Dock.

Quite near was an area of waste ground that produced a large quantity of extremely potent horse radish, if caught unawares its strength was such that it seemed to pull your eyeballs down your nose! When the opportunity arose I would dig up a sack full and sell it to a Costermonger whom I knew in Beresford Market in Woolwich, this helped supplement my meagre weekly wage.

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Poplar Hospital 1950s (photo National Maritime Museum)

Just across the road from the entrance to Blackwall Tunnel was Poplar Hospital, this was built to look after injured seaman and dock workers, this was before the days the health and safety brigade manifested itself. Even I had to present myself there on a couple of occasions to have a few stitches put in! The docks were dangerous place to work, but self-preservation was one of the things that were passed on to newcomers from the old hands without making a big issue of it.

We learned to recognise such things as to where the fire extinguishers and life buoys were situated and to make sure that steam valve handles were tied when working on a steam line. What we weren’t told about was the danger to our lungs from asbestos. One of the punishments for being cheeky to the Fitters of Heavy Gang was to have blue asbestos rubbed into your hair; the only way to get rid of it was to cut your hair off. It didn’t take long to learn the meaning of the word respect!

In hindsight the five years of the apprenticeship were probably the best years of my life, I was taught the basic skills of a trade, but more importantly I have learnt how to get on with my fellow workers, all of whom were hard men and sometimes quite eccentric in their ways, but they always went out of their way to help the apprentices whenever they could. Unfortunately with today’s attitude to the workplace of its unworkable health and safety and political correctness regimes, men like these would not exist!

Unfortunately the atmosphere of sounds, smalls and pub life of the ‘Isle of Dogs’ has gone forever. This also applies to all our old dock systems where dereliction and unemployment is the norm. Fortunately the ‘Isle of Dogs’ has been given another chance, but I consider that I was lucky to have been there in its halcyon days.

David Carpenter has published a humorous and informative account about the his time working in the London Graving Dock  in the book ‘Dockland Apprentice’.

In his later book, Below The Waterline follows the Author through his experiences from the end of his apprenticeship in 1961 with The London Graving Dock Co. on the Isle of Dogs to his time in the Merchant Navy as an engineer.

Both books are available here

David has kindly offered a 10% discount if you mention Isle of Dogs Life.

Other posts you may find interesting

The Story of the London Graving Dock

Memories of the Isle Of Dogs ,Part One- David Carpenter

Cubitt Town Carnegie Library by Rebecca Mitchell

cubitt lib

Cubitt Town Carnegie Library by Rebecca Mitchell

Recently I have been sent a picture painted by talented young local artist, Rebecca Mitchell of one of my favourite buildings on the ‘Island’, the Cubitt Town Carnegie Library on Strattondale Street.

In a previous post I gave a little bit of the history of the library and told the story of the book ‘Rose-Marie’ that was returned after being overdue for 70 years.

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However it is important to realise that the library is of national and international significance being part of a the chain of Carnegie Libraries. Carnegie Libraries were built with money donated by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, it is estimated that 2509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929. The majority (1,689) were built-in the United States, but 660 were built-in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji.


Cubitt Town library, one of the 660 in Britain and Ireland was part of a movement that developed what we consider the modern library. One of the innovations of the libraries was the idea of open stacks that encouraged people to browse and choose books for themselves.

A Poplar Guide of 1927 relates with pride “The Cubitt Town Free Library, opened in January, 1905, in Strattondale Street, is on the ‘Open Access’ system, by which means borrowers can select their own volumes from the shelves with full satisfaction to themselves and a saving of time to all concerned: the library is open from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.”

Before Carnegie libraries, in most libraries you went to the Librarian at the counter and ask for books which were then retrieved from closed stacks.

It cannot be overestimated the role that libraries played in the late 19th and 20th centuries especially in poorer areas, they provided escapism and a refuge from the often harsh world outside.

However in the 21st century a number of Carnegie Libraries have been demolished or used for other purposes, this has led to many libraries widening their access to provide more community services. Cubitt Town has developed a number of special and community events so hopefully for many years to come the library will go from strength to strength.


Rebecca in the Library


Other Posts you may find interesting

Cubitt Town Carnegie Library and the Story of Rosemarie

An ‘Island’ Girl – Rebecca Mitchell, Artist