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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tall Ship Kaskelot in West India Dock



After a quiet period for visitors to West India Dock , we welcome the Tall Ship  Kaskelot , a three-masted barque and one of the largest remaining wooden ships in commission.


Kaskelot has quite an unusual background being built in 1948 by J Ring Anderson for the Royal Greenland Trading Company at the Svendborg shipyard in Denmark . Originally she was used to take supplies to remote coastal settlements in  Greenland, she then was used as a fisheries ship in the Faroes.


In the 1980s she was bought by a film production company and she become a bit of a film star appearing in a number of films and television programmes including The Last Place on Earth (1985), Revolution (1985), Return to Treasure Island (1986),  The Three Musketeers (1993), Cutthroat Island (1995), Swept from the Sea (1997), A Respectable Trade (1998), David Copperfield (1999), Longitude (2000), Shackleton (2002) and Amazing Grace (2006).


In 2013 she was sold and has just completed a major multi-million pound restoration at T. Nielsen in Gloucester  where many original features were retained whilst incorporating state-of-the-art equipment and machinery.

It is thought the owners are going to use the ship for charters, filming and private events. although if you fancy buying a large Tall Ship the ship is available to purchase.


Kaskelot in full sail

Her statistics are as follows :
Rig: 3 masted Barque double topsail
LOA: 153ft (46.6m)
Beam: 28ft (8.5m)
Draught: 12ft (3.6m)
Engine: Mitsubishi S6A3 T2 500h.p. diesel (new)
Main deck: 79 x 25ft (24.1 x 7.6m)
Quarter deck: 34.4 x 22.6ft (10.5 x 6.9m)
Main hold area: 200m3
Air Draught: 105ft (32m)
GRT: 226 tons
Area of Sail: 9,500 sq. ft (2,895.6 sq.m)
No. of Sails: 17




Massey Shaw in front of Kaskelot


Thomas Heath Robinson in Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs 1905

heath robinson

William Heath Robinson was a cartoonist and illustrator best known for drawings of ridiculously complicated machines. Even today, the term ‘Heath Robinson’ is used by many to describe a complex complicated machine that is constructed from everyday items.

However , he had a brother Thomas who was also a talented cartoonist and illustrator and was known for his book and magazine illustrations, and it was looking through a Strand magazine of 1905 when I came across these illustrations.

The article it illustrated was “”Off the track in London” by George R. Sims which I have featured before, but the illustrations bring some of the article to life.

The first illustration is ” Ye Olde Jimmy Thicks ” which was apparently an eating place in Three Colt Street, Limehouse, the article gives us a little more information.

At the end of the Causeway are a few two-storey houses built into railway arches. The trains run over the top-floor ceiling. Outside they are peaceful-looking dwellings. How much peace there can be on the top floor when an express or a heavy goods train passes over them one can only conjecture.

Leaving these quaint specimens of architecture on the right, we wander in and out of a network of narrow by-ways and quaint old-world thoroughfares to find ourselves presently in Three Colt Street. We have left Oriental Limehouse behind us. Here the environment is typical of the old-fashioned Cockney district with a strong leaven of the Irish element.

Here are plenty of public-houses well filled, and here are the local gentlemen who loll against the wall and the local ladies who gossip at street corners, basket or bag on arm and latchkey on forefinger.

Three Colt Street is a shopping neighbourhood, and one in which the shoppers take the middle of the road, for here are stalls and barrows with comestibles to suit the purse of the humble housewife whose allowance from her lord and master compels her to buy in the cheapest market.

Half-way down the street is a block of old-fashioned wooden houses, which are in curious contrast to the up-to-date bustle of the inhabitants.

One of these, an eating-house, boldly announces itself as ‘Ye Olde Jimmy Thicks,’ and I take it that the ‘thicks’ are the slices of bread and butter, which are better known at the coffee stalls of the people as ‘door-steps.’

Nearly opposite these wooden houses is a public house, in the window of which the programme of a. summer outing is already displayed. ‘An outing will leave here for a day in the country first Monday in July; five shillings, including tea, cornet-player and hat.’

The hat is given that the party in the brake may all be similarly headgeared. It is a light white sun hat, suggestive of a song and dance in the cotton fields. That you may see yourself in one before you start, a photograph of the company in a former excursion, all in the ‘included hat,’ is also exhibited in the tavern window.

heath robo2 - Copy (2)

The second illustration ” Desolation Land” offers a view from what is now Mudchute Park and Farm  looking towards the Viaduct that is now in Millwall Park.

George Sims surveys the waste land and wonders if it could not be used for better purposes, which is of course what happened with the creation of Millwall Park and Mudchute Park and Farm.

In the centre of the island lies Desolation-Land, a vast expanse of dismal waste ground and grey rubbish heaps. All round the open space is a black fringe of grim wharves and of towering chimneys, belching volumes of smoke into a lowering sky that seems to have absorbed a good deal of the industrial atmosphere.

This waste land is spanned by the soot-dripping arches of the railway, which is the one note of hope in the depressing picture, for occasionally a train dashes shrieking by towards a brighter bourne.

Across the waste, as we gaze wearily around it, borne down by our environment, comes a lonely little lad, who wheels his baby sister in a perambulator roughly constructed out of a sugar box. They are the only human beings in sight.

Years ago this desolate spot was farm land. It might yet be secured and made into a green play ground for the children, who at present have only the roads and the miniature mountains of rubbish that have gradually risen at the end of side streets closed in by factory walls. If this central desert could be secured and ‘humanised’ and turned into a healthy playground, it would be a grand thing for the Millwall that is – a grander still for the Millwall that is to be.

heath robo2 - Copy

The third illustration is named ” St Cuthbert’s Lodge ” which regular readers of the blog  will know was the home of the Reverend Free whose book Seven Years Hard has been featured on the site.

In Ingleheim Street, a turning off West Ferry Road, there is a quaint brick building that at once attracts your attention, for above it is a flagstaff, and in the wire-protected windows there are flowers.

When you go down over the rough bit of roadway that ends in a wall of corrugated iron and a suggestion of black sheds beyond you read above the doorway of the quaint building the words, ‘St. Cuthbert’s Lodge,’ and you remember that this is the address of the Rev. Richard Free, the author of that intensely human document, ‘Seven Years’ Hard,’ the story of seven years’ patient, and often heart-breaking, work among the poorest population of a land of drudgery and desolation.

When we came first upon St. Cuthbert’s Lodge, not knowing what it was, the oddness of the building struck both my colleague and myself. The suggestion it conveyed to my mind was that of a lifeboat station or ark of refuge on a lonely shore. Why it conveyed that impression I cannot say. I am inclined to imagine that somewhere on the Yarmouth shore I have, in years gone by, seen something like it.

A veritable ark of refuge has this quaint little building – with the ship masts stretching high above it – proved to many in Millwall.

Mr Free and his wife, cut off from the world, with which their one link is the little, conductorless one-horse ‘bus, have brought the love of light and colour into houses of grimness and gloom, and, taking the human view of our poor humanity, have become popular characters in the island of mighty tasks and mean surroundings, of noxious trades and pleasureless lives, an island in which there are no places of amusement of any kind.

Anyone reading Mr Free’s book would know that his stay in Millwall  was not quite that easy and Millwall was not quite as grim as George Sims suggests.

Thomas’ younger brother William Heath Robinson produced a series of humorous sketches in the First World War which showed his trademark sense of humour.


The German Button Magnets 1915

After the First World War his designs become even more complex and were used in books and advertisements.

He died in 1944 but his designs are still popular and there is a move to build a Heath Robinson museum in Pinner where he spent most of his adult life.

Update : The William Heath Robinson Museum is due to open in October 2016 and an exhibition  that will feature the work of both of the brothers will open in 2017.

Many thanks to Peter Higginson of the William Heath Robinson Trust for the latest updates.

Springtime at Mudchute Farm


Although I love living in the city, now and then I feel the need for a walk in the countryside.  Well fortunately I don’t have to go very far , because if I want to enjoy nature I take short walk  down the middle of the Isle of Dogs to Mudchute Park and Farm.


It is one of the largest inner City Farms anywhere in Europe, with a wonderful collection of over 100 animals and fowl on the farm.

In a previous post I went into the history of the Park and farm and showed it owes its existence  in some ways to the  mud dug out of Millwall Dock.


On a warm spring day ,the farm is alive with visitors especially families who enjoy all the animals on show.


There is a number of rare breeds on the farm including Dexter cattle and  a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig.

The Farm has just planted a community orchard in partnership with the London Orchard Project and local schools.


When you are wandering around the farm it is hard to believe you are less than a mile from the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

Run almost entirely by local volunteers, it is the Island’s hidden treasure. It is not just the animals there is always lots of events organised for adults and children.


If you feel the need for a rural retreat, head down to the farm and  even sample the homemade meals at the Farm café.

Opening times

Mudchute Park and Farm

Farm: Everyday 8am–4pm
Park: All day everyday

Pets corner

Everyday 8am–4pm

Mudchute Kitchen

Tuesday–Friday 9.30am–3.00pm
Saturday–Sunday 9.30am–4.30pm

Other posts you may find interesting

Urban Retreat – The Story of Mudchute Farm and Park

Water City Exhibition at Gallery@LR – Frank Creber Artist


Water City

Last year I posted an article about the Mural being created celebrating the SS Robin and the Royal Docks, the artist in charge of this community scheme was Frank Creber .

Yesterday I went  to Frank’s new exhibition at the Gallery within the Lloyd’s Register building at 71 Fenchurch Street, EC3M 4BS.

The exhibition which is free , is open from Wednesday 19 March to Friday 4 April 2014, opening times are Monday to Friday between 10:00-16:00


Although now housed in an ultra modern Richard Rogers designed building, Lloyd’s Register  has a long and distinguished history providing quality assurance  and classification for Merchant Shipping.


Therefore it is an appropriate setting for Frank’s paintings which pays homage to the traditions of the East End and Docklands areas but is also about the present and the future.


The Exhibition covers a wide range of Frank’s work including pieces created for the Water City project and work undertaken when he was one of the leading artists of the Bromley by Bow Centre.


Frank has been part of the Water City programme for a number of years as the official artist in residence in 2004 to being the Director of Visual Arts for the Water City Festival in 2009.


Frank’s pictures are interesting mix of landscapes and figures in an ever changing kaleidoscope of colour, often he  places individuals and communities  at the heart of his pictures to reflect it is usually  local people and communities who pay the cost of rapid urban change.


Frank Creber at the Gallery@LR

Frank will be at the gallery on selected days when the exhibition is running, he will available to discuss the paintings and give information about other forthcoming Water City events. This exhibition is linked thematically to the Water City exhibition ‘ Walking on Water ‘ that is due place at ExCel in May in partnership with Grand Designs Live.

Lloyd’s Register is developing the Gallery space which is situated next to the reception to include more exhibitions, it is well worth a visit to see Frank’s exhibition but also the Richard Rogers designed building.

For the maritime minded, Lloyd’s Register have a Information Centre  Library and Archive  that provides access to the full collection of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships (1764 to date) and assorted other publications.

Other posts you may find interesting

Water City – The SS Robin Heritage Mural

The Dirty British Coaster – The Story of the SS Robin

London Particulars – Remembering the Killer Fogs of London


Last week the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf in particular were over a couple of days shrouded in fog  for a few hours in the morning before the sun burst through.


These fogs are not unusual in the Isle of Dogs due to its proximity to the river and it’s low-lying terrain. Although these fogs often cause minor delays for the river traffic, the disruption is generally minimal.


However if we go back just over 50 years and beyond, London fogs or London particulars as they were known not only caused widespread disruption but were responsible for a large number of deaths.

London’s wealth was often built on the wide range of manufacturing taking place in the city, little thought was given to the effect of the pollution going into the river or the pollution billowing out of the thousands of chimneys  into the atmosphere.

By the late 19th century the effects of this pollution was most obvious in the winter months when it combined with dank and damp weather conditions, the following newspaper report from the Daily News of 1888 illustrates some of the problems.


Do you know what a real London November fog is? Having gone through an exceptionally trying ordeal of the mixture during the most dismal and melancholy month of the a calendar, I fancy that I am qualified to describe the phenomenon. The pea soup fogs of the metropolis, which are unique, and are really coal, in solution, which falls in the form of smoke and sooty particles upon the lower strata of the atmosphere when there is not sufficient circulation of air to carry these matters off. A high barometer, the sign of the stillness in the aerial regions which allows all the discharges from the million chimneys of London time to condense upon the cold, watery particles of the atmosphere, and afterwards to descend in this amalgamated condition upon our devoted selves. we are enshrouded in a thick fall of fog, dense in consistency, bilious brown and yellow in colour, and pungent and sour to the taste.

During the worst of it a more than midnight darkness broods over the scene; all traffic in the river is stopped, cabbies lead their horses, and gas-lamps in the street and in the offices make a feeble kind of protest against the tyranny of King Fog, electric lights are no good at all, and throw a sickly uncertain illumination on the ghastly picture. The moral effect is most deplorable; with everything wrapped within this dreadful sheath of foul fog, and everybody stealing about like ghosts, a sense of depressing unreality seizes on one, there can be no doubt but that the London fogs kill many people, with delicate throats and chests, and injure large numbers. After a day’s battle with a bad fog, you return to your suburban retreat covered with filth; collar and cuffs turned from white to brown, and the face and hands in need of the scrubbing’ brush; the nostrils, lined with soot, indicate the extent to which the lungs are affected.  It is a mystery to me why Londoners do not insist that this fog matter shall be made a Parliamentary question. The loss to trade through delays and accidents is very considerable, and injuries and inconvenience to the five million inhabitants of the metropolis and its population are incalculable.

charring cross 1920s

Charing Cross 1920s

The simple answer why parliament did very little about the problem was that economic prosperity was valued over environmental problems which may only be really disruptive for a few days per year.

The Docks and the River were dangerous places to work even when conditions were good, when heavy fog descended there was often fatalities as indicated by the following reports.

The dense fog which has been prevailed in London for several days past is still extremely severe, and is causing great inconvenience , no fewer than 23 persons have been drowned at the docks by falling into the water.


LONDON, November 5.
The dense fog which settled over London and the neighbouring districts last Saturday still continues. Many accidents have been reported, including the drowning of fourteen dock workers at the London Docks.

LONDON, Monday.—Six ships- collided in a dense fog, near the West India docks on Saturday night, one of which sunk and the crew narrowly escaped.


London Great Smog 1952

Towards the end of the Second World War up to the early 50s , there were a series of cold winters that produced a large number of foggy days which culminated in the Great Smog of 1952 which turned what was seen as an occasional inconvenience into a National Disaster.

There was a number of factors that contributed to the Great Smog of 1952, the November and early December was very cold with heavy snowfalls, this led to people burning large quantities of coal which created a large amount of smoke. Weather conditions rather than dispersing the smoke, trapped it above London with the pollution from the factory chimneys.


London Great Smog 1952

On the 5th December, the fog developed  and large amounts of impurities were released into the atmosphere, over the day the fog thickened to such an extent that in many parts of London drivers and pedestrians found it impossible to see even a few yards away. It was said on the Isle of Dogs the fog was so thick that people could not see their feet.


London Great Smog 1952

Over the next three days the fog continued and a large number of people began to suffer breathing problems and hospitals began to be under pressure to cope with the demand.

When the fog finally cleared on the 9th December, it was estimated 4,000 people had died has a result of the fog.

Many thousands more suffered from bronchial problems, it was even said that cattle had choked to death at Smithfield Market.


London Great Smog 1952

In the weeks after the smog an even grimmer picture began to develop, as the following news report suggests.


LONDON,, Fri. — London’s “great smog ” disaster in 1952 took 12,000 lives, not 4000 Dr Ernest Wilkins,- head of the atmospheric  pollution section  of the  Scientific and Industrial Section told the Royal Sanitary Institute in London. He  said that 4000 Londoners died  during or immediately. after the smog, but 8000 more died in January and February 1953, and these had to be added to the total of the victims.

One of the main causes for the distress was the high levels of sulphur dioxide which a later report points out.


The fog which blanketed London a fortnight ago was seven times more poisonous than ordinary fog, and contained corrosive sulphur fumes in never before recorded strength.

Eventually politicians and the government were forced to act which eventually led to Clean Air Act 1956 which banned the use of coal for domestic fires in urban areas and moving power stations out of cities.

These measures did take time to have effect but eventually real progress was made and the Great Smogs became a distant memory.  It didn’t mean the end of pollution however,  with car fumes then becoming the main source of concern .

The Ferry House- The Oldest Pub on the Island


In the 18th century there were very few houses on the Isle of Dogs, one notable exception was the Ferry House pub which has been plying its trade since 1722 and is still going strong.

The pub’s location near to the old ferry point across to Greenwich meant it was ideally placed to cater for travellers crossing the river.

There had been a ferry at this point since at least 1330, known afterwards as Popeler Ferry and then Potter’s Ferry. The Ferry transported men, horses and cattle and become a lucrative business whose rights were protected by legal statutes.


We know from Rocque’s map of 1745, that the Ferry House was marked on the map near to a gibbet, by consulting Old Bailey cases we can often find a little bit of the history of who was the landlord and the type of customers that frequent the pub.


From the following cases it is clear that the pub’s isolation attracted a number of interesting characters.

In a case from 1764, a John Mather living at the Ferry House is suspected of Theft.

JOHN MATHER,  Theft > receiving, 12th September 1764.

JONATHON SAUNDERS . I am a corn-lighter man : about the 3d or 4th of May, I missed 8 bushels of malt from out of my vessel lying at Pickle-herring-stairs ; it was clean good malt, worth 27 s. the quarter; that was the lowest it was sold at, at that time: the prisoner Mather did live at the Ferry-house at the Isle of dogs: we went down to apprehend him on the information Dimmock had given us, when we took him at Portsmouth. When I charged Mather with buying a quarter of malt, my property, he said he might have had sweepings of him; but he did not brew, and had no occasion for malt at all; he threatened what he would do to us; but we took him in a boat, and brought him before justice Clark; we had Dimmock there: the prisoner owned he had bought some malt off three men, but said it was sweepings; and said he never bought any clean corn off them.


In 1834, the Ferry House featured in another theft case.

ELIZABETH PINKERTON, Theft > pocketpicking, 3rd July 1834.

JOHN BURT. I am a seaman . I met William Punchard on the 10th of June, at the Ferry-house, in the Isle-of-dogs – I gave him my watch to take care of – I was going over to Greenwich – it was an old-fashioned silver watch, and the maker’s name was Brown – it had a steel chain, a seal, and a key.

WILLIAM PUNCHARD. I received the watch, and as I was returning home that night, about half-past ten, I met the prisoner and another woman – they asked me to go with them – I went to a house in Limehouse-hole – I went to an up-stairs room with both the women – I laid on the bed, and went to sleep – I had given them four shillings between the two – I awoke about two o’clock, and missed the watch which had been in my fob – I had pulled my jacket, off, but my trowsers were on – I opened the window, and sung-out for the police – the prisoner was gone – the other woman was there – she was taken, but discharged.

Cross-examined by MR. BODKIN. Q. Your friend asked you to take care of his watch? A. Yes; I had been drinking a little when I went with the women; but I was not drunk – I had been in one public-house, and stayed about half-an-hour with a young man who is now just gone in to Sydney – after I left the public-house, I had to call at a doctor’s – I had the watch safe then – that was about one hundred yards before I met the women – the prisoner laid on the bed; the other woman on the floor – I had been in the house about half an hour when I fell asleep.

GUILTY . Aged 34. – Transported for Fourteen Years .

In 1838, the landlady Amelia Ingram recollects some decidely shady dealings.

THOMAS PAUL, Theft  simple larceny, 14th May 1838.

AMELIA INGRAM . I keep the Ferry-house at the Isle of Dogs, near the Mill-bank. Some time about twelve months ago I remember four men coming, and giving me information that a dead man was at the back of my house in the water—the prisoner was one of the four—he is a navigator, and was working in the neighbourhood—he was in the habit of coming to my house for beer—I knew nothing of the deceased, nor his property. Cross-examined by. MR. PAYNE. Q. Was the prisoner the person that spoke to you about it? A. No, another man—it was on, a Monday morning—I am sure it was not Wednesday—it was about half-past eight o’clock or ten minutes to nine o’clock—the persons went away together afterwards COURT. Q. You say four of them gave you information, and he was one of them? A. Yes—two of them came to the kitchen door, and two stood down the steps—he was one of the two that stood on the steps.

GUILTY      Transported for Seven Years

In 1851 we have the landlord Robert Shepherd cashing a dodgy cheque.

WILLIAM JOHN COLLIER, Theft > embezzlement, 3rd February 1851.

ROBERT SHEPHERD . I keep the Ferry-house, at Poplar—the prisoner brought me this check, and I cashed it for him—I afterwards paid it away.

Cross-examined. Q. How long have you known the prisoner? A. Personally about sixteen months—I never heard anything against his character

GUILTY .—Recommended to mercy by the Jury— Confined Eighteen Months.


Towards the end of the 19th century, a large number of industries  covered the southern tip of the Island and the population increased to take advantage of the employment.

The Ferry House was not so reliant on the Ferry Trade but began to cater for  the large number of workers coming  onto the Island. The building of the foot tunnel virtually killed the ferry trade altogether, and the Blackwall  and Rotherhithe tunnels began to be used to ferry vehicles across the river.


Ferry House early 20th century (photo Island History Trust)

In the 20th century, it’s colourful past was largely forgotten and the Ferry House’s location near the foot tunnel and Island Gardens allowed it to prosper and was fortunate to avoid damage in the Second World War.

The Ferry House is, it is safe to say the oldest pub on the Island, but it is probably the oldest building on the Island that has been in continual use.

It has also had its share of fame, featuring in a number of novels based on the Island.

Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall – The Fastest Pedestrian in the World

hewitt state library of victoris - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Last year I wrote a post about John Arthur Trudgen, a local hero  who although virtually unknown now, in his day he was a champion swimmer and  had a stroke named after him.

Recently I came across another 19th century sporting  local hero who found fame here and around the world.

Frank Scurry Hewitt was born in Ireland, but later lived and worked in Millwall, when he began his athletic career he was known as Frank Hewitt from Millwall. When he was an old man he told a newspaper about his origins.

It was in 1863 I ran my first race at Bow running grounds, England, for £5 aside, 440 yards. The old Sporting Life was stakeholder and referee. They paid me all in sovereigns. I had never had so much money in my possession. I wrapped it up in my handkerchief, and was very frightened till I got safely back to Millwall. I gave it to my mate, who backed me and gave me half of the stake. I was then working on the wonderful iron ram Northumberland, and great people came from all parts of the world to look at her. She then was the wonder of the world — only had to get steam! up, ram the other fellow, and that was the end of it.

‘My father’s regiment, Her Majesty’s 24th Green’s, was stationed in Dublin Barracks. My mother, a beautiful woman, could speak seven different languages. They lived in Limerick, in George-street, where I was born on May 8, 1845. My father was Major Francis Scurry — that is my name. As I entered in Sheffield handicaps as Frank Hewitt, I have always been called Hewitt.

(The Northumberland he is referring to is the HMS Northumberland which was built in the Millwall Iron Works and launched in 1866.)

Amateur Athletics of the time was dominated by runners with independent wealth or those who were backed by rich patrons, for others the only way to make a living in running or ‘Pedestrianism’ as it was known was to run in matches against other runners for a cash purse.

This is how Frank Scurry Hewitt of Millwall made his name by winning a number of races all over England, the Sportsman magazine gives a list of his more notable races.

frank hewitt - Copy

State Library of Victoria

Frank Hewitt of Millwall  is the best  all round’ man the English foot racing arena has possessed for some years,, was born on May 8, 1845, and stands 5ft 8 in. in height His first appearance in the pedestrian arena was in 1863, with Springhall, of London, a quarter of a mile, for £5 a side, at the Bow Running Grounds, Hewitt winning easily.

Smith was next pitted against him, at the same enclosure, the latter allowing his opponent 10 yards start in 440, for £10 a-side. when Hewitt was again successful, Hawkins then , opposed Hewitt, the same distance as the previous matches, for £10 a-side ; the men met on the Chatham and Maidstone-road, when Hewitt was again victorious.

A silver challenge cup way given to be competed for at Greenwich, which was also won by Hewitt, beating a field of 15 others. In 1866 he went to Sheffield, and succeeded in carrying off a £40 handicap. The Marquis of Queensberry  and other noblemen and gentlemen having promoted a 150 yards and a quarter of a mile handicaps at the Crystal Palace, Hewitt was one of the men who entered. In the 150 yards race he was defeated by W. Brown, of Manchester (to whom he gave a yard and a half), by a foot He, however, won the 440 yards handicap by five yards, taking the first prize, £25.

He next received £10 forfeit from J. Heeley, .of Lowerhouses, who was matched to run him 250 yards. He also received £2 of Cobbler Wood, from Sheffield, for their match, distance 150 yards. They were afterwards matched for £25 a-side to run the same distance, and the race took place at Hyde park, Sheffield, and was witnessed by upwards of 6,000 spectators. The result was never in doubt, Hewitt winning easily by four yards.

Rothwell of Bury, then matched himself with Hewitt to run 440 yards for £25 a-side, and they met at the Royal Oak-park Grounds, Manchester. Odds of 3 to 1 were laid on Hewitt, who won by a yard. He next competed in Mr Cooper’s quarter of a mile sweepstakes of £5 each, eight of the quickest men in England contesting. Fortune again favoured Hewitt, for he won in a most masterly style, and took the first prize £4o, and a splendid silver cup, given by the promoter ; Hayward, of Rochdale, was second ; and Mole, of Walsall, third.

In September, 1867, he ran J. Nuttall, of Manchester, 440 yards, for £25 a-side, at Hyde-park, Sheffield, Nuttall allowing his opponent four yards start. Hewitt won easily. In April, 1868, he won the first prize in a mile handicap sweep stakes of £5 each, at Manchester, to which was added by Mr Cooper, a silver challenge cup, value 60gs. and £30 in money, Hewitt defeating Albert Bird, who received 15 yards start; R. Hindle, of Paisley; and McInstray, of Glasgow, after an exciting struggle, by a foot, in 4m. 21s. He shortly afterwards ran second to R. Buttery, of Sheffield, in an 800 yards handicap, for which £100 was given by Mr  Cooper, at the Royal Oak Park grounds, Manchester.

On August 17, last year, he beat J. Ridley, of Gateshead, on handicap terms, distance 880 yards, for £50 a-side, at Hyde-park, Hewitt having 12 yards start, and his opponent 25 yards start. The betting was in favour of Hewitt at 5 to 4, a huge amount of money changing hands, and he won a most exciting race by three yards; time, lm. 54s.

In 1869 Frank Hewitt with a few other English pedestrians travelled to Australia and New Zealand and successfully beat many of the local pedestrians.

hewitt harris

State Library of Victoria

One of his most famous series of races was against local champion  J. G.  Harris at what became the Melbourne Cricket ground in front of a crowd estimated at 20,000. A local newspaper gives the results.

 One of his principal races is that colony was with Harris. At 100 yards Hewitt won, at 200 yards Harris won, at 300 yards there was a dead heat, and at 440 yards Hewitt won easily. The run-off of 300 yards, for £200 a-side, was won by Hewitt.

dead heat harris

State Library of Victoria

After this great success, Hewitt stayed in Australia and became a great favourite amongst the pedestrian fans.

He carried on running and winning races  into his forties, and was well respected for his opinion on Athletics  in his later life.

A Sydney paper reported his death in 1926

Frank Hewitt

SYDNEY, Saturday.

Frank Hewitt, one of the greatest footrunners Australia has ever known, died here to-day. Fifty-seven years ago Hewitt came to Australia from England, with two other pedestrians. Bird and Topley. He began his Australian career at Melbourne in 1870 where he ran a match on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, against J. G. Harris over 100, 200, 300 and 440 yards. They were wonderful contests. Hewitt won the 100 yards by a foot, the 300 yards was a dead-heat, Harris won the 200 yards, and Hewitt easily won the 440 yards event. At the time of his death the old champion was 81.

Although timings were difficult to confirm , Hewitt is credited with running 100 yards in just under 10 secs, 142yds in 13 sec, 300yds in 30sec, 400yds in 43sec. and 880yds in 1 min 53sec.

It was widely reported that he broke the Half Mile world record in Christchurch, New Zealand in the time of  1 min 53.1 secs.

There is no doubt that he was one of the most famous pedestrians in the world before the Olympic movement started and excelled over a wide range of distance from 50 yards to a mile, in his long career in Australia, he never forgot his Millwall connections by always insisting that he was to known as Frank Hewitt of Millwall.

Eric Pemberton’s Postcard’s – The Launch of HMS Thunderer 1911


The Launch of the HMS Thunderer

Once again Eric Pemberton has sent a couple of fascinating postcards, these feature  the launching of the HMS Thunderer from the Thames Ironworks shipyard in 1911.

thunderer - Copy

HMS Thunderer was the last Royal Navy ship to be built on the Thames  and was  the last major ship built by the Thames Ironworks. For this reason the ship has a special place in the history of Thames shipbuilding.

At the time the ship was one of the largest battleships in the Royal Navy being one of the Orion class (super-Dreadnoughts)  weighing 22,000 tons.

The ship fought at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War. At the end of the war, she became a cadet training ship , then the vessel was sold and broken up in 1926.

A Daily Mail report of the launch marvels at the smoothness of the launch and skill of the shipbuilders.


In the whole history of giant ship building no launch has ever been more skilfully planned or more successfully carried out than the launch of the Thunderer at Canning Town yesterday afternoon (says the Daily Mail). It was arranged that at seventeen minutes past three the huge bulk should begin to move. Just as the hand of the clock reached the quarter Mrs Randall Davidson, wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with one smart cut severed a red, white and blue rope and released the last dogshore. A great block weighing eight hundred weight fell and the vessel was free of all impediment.

Every eye watched her closely, ‘She’s moving!’ the ‘ cry went up. Then she stopped, moved again, stopped again, and at 3.17 exactly began to slide with slow majesty towards the water. It was an amazingly impressive sight. The ship looked so enormous that it had been hard to realise she could move at all. When she did, how could she be controlled? .Would she not break away and play havoc with staging, derrick-poles and every thing? No, when she did move she moved with dignified deliberation, as if she knew exactly what she was doing. One  watched, fascinated. One felt almost as if some great convulsion of nature were taking place. With marvellous precision she glided on, scarcely quickening her pace at all.

 The Thunderer’s Doves.

Forty tons of grease, at £16 a ton, had been put down to ease her progress. All the ingenuity and experience of Mr Clement Mackrow and his assistants in the designing department had been brought to bear on the problem of getting her safely into the water. They had laid their plans well. Without a jerk, without a ‘ quiver, without a hitch, she slipped down the 500 ft. incline and was in the river before we had recovered from the shock of seeing her begin to move.

There was, of course, tremendous cheering. The whole neighbourhood was black with people. Special trains and motor-coaches had brought two thousand guests. East London made it a holiday and crowded every possible point of vantage. It was a mighty shout that, went up. In the excitement hats were waved wildly, handkerchiefs fluttered, caps flung into the air. Small cannon fired a  salute, A band played the National Anthem. And from a big coloured paper lantern hung on the bows a host of doves escaped, a pretty Japanese ‘custom which the Thames Ironworks  did well to copy.

In the river the Thunderer looked even more imposing and more vast than she did in the yard. Her immensely powerful bows were now for the first time properly seen. No  time was lost in attaching tugs and  she was soon towed away. For the next twelve months she will be at Dagenham, further down the river, in process of completion.

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The Launch (Newham Heritage Services)

Mr  Hill’s Wish.

 There, was a short service before  Mrs Davidson cut the cord and broke the customary bottle of champagne, and after the launch there were some speeches in the tea tent. Mr Arnold Hills, chairman of the  Thames Ironworks, welcomed the guests from his invalid chair, and he was cheered loudly by the work people as he went about in the chair in the yard. Everyone admired the pluck and determination of this  keen- eyed, fresh-faced man with the neatly-clipped, grey beard who manages the affairs of a great company although he cannot move hand or foot. . The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of Mr Hills in touching terms when he replied on behalf of the guests, who included Mr McKenna, First Lord of the Admiralty ; Mr Lewis Harcourt, Mr Sydney Buxton, the Lord Mayor, and many of the mayors of London boroughs. Telegrams wishing ‘good luck’ to  the Thunderer were received from Mr Balfour, Lord Landsdowne, and Lord Crewe.

‘Well,’ said Mr. Hills, when it was all was over and he was preparing, to go back to Sunningdale in his special train, ‘it has all gone off admirably, I am thankful to say. and now there’s only one thing I want. That is another battleship to build in Canning Town. If perseverance can get it, Mr Hills will not remain long unfulfilled.

Unfortunately Mr Hills wish was not fulfilled and the launch was the beginning of the end for the world famous shipyard, it had struggled to find finance to finish the Thunderer and in 1912 it finally admitted defeat and went into bankruptcy .

Other Posts you may find interesting

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – The Battle of Stepney

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Victoria Park

Eric Pemberton’s Postcards – Seamens Missions

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

Memories of The Queen’s Theatre Poplar – David Mitchell

queens the

In a previous post, writer David Mitchell told of some of his memories of Poplar High Street, a main feature of the High Street was the Queen’s Theatre.

The Queen’s Theatre origins lay in the Queen’s Arms public house that was on the site in 1863, by 1867 a hall was built on the back. The theatre was then called the Oriental, this theatre was then demolished in 1873 and a new theatre called the New Albion built.

By the late 19th century new health and safety regulations by the council were introduced that led to a number of changes to the theatre that reopened in 1905 as the Queen’s Theatre of Varieties. It soon gained a reputation as a place to see the up and coming stars, Gracie Fields made her London debut in the theatre.

It also become a favourite of many Islanders who starved of entertainment on the Island made the journey up the ‘Queens’.

Later on in the day came the crunch and the big question.  Would we be allowed to go to Poplar High Street in the evening – or not?    It was very much a matter of the mood our mothers were in.  In a bad mood – no!  But in a good mood – Yes, but don’t come back late!   And so in the evenings, if we were given permission, our gang of boys and girls – average age then, about 8-9 years I would say – gathered together in the street and marched round to the High Street.

First port of call was the fish n’ chip shop – what a Godsend that shop was for the poor people of the East End.  You could buy a handsome piece of fried fish for 2d and a generous portion of chips for a penny.  It was quite a treat to have that occasionally for tea, but only when our Dad was working; however, fish was not for us kids – we had to be happy with the chips.  But sometimes we were generously given a taster by the adults which was delicious and much looked forward to.

Here I must explain that back in those days it was not possible to reserve seats at theatres as one can today. Therefore, it you wanted a good seat it was necessary to arrive early and form a queue.  And these queues, of course, are what attracted the street entertainers to the High Street on Saturday nights.

But first things first, and so into the fish n’chip shop we all trooped.  It was a tall counter and we could just about get our noses high enough if we stood on our toes so that we could be seen. “Pennorf o’ chips Guvnor, please”  we would all cry in unison and we watched hungrily while ’the Guv’ shovelled the lovely golden chips into the large sheet of newspaper in which, in those days, they were served.  The “Guv” folded over the newspaper and then handed the packets to us. One by one, we took the newspaper packages, then the vinegar and the salt cellar and sploshed both all over the chips.  The object was to wet the chips and newspaper with enough vinegar so that when we wrapped them up again we could poke a hole through the newspaper with our finger and then we could extract the lovely chips one by one. How very sad we all were when we came to the last chip!

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© John Earl 1958

Meanwhile, we would then make our exit from the fish n’ chip shop and seated ourselves on the pavement directly opposite the Queens and the queues. As the High Street was a very narrow street we had a grandstand view of all that was going on.  All the external lights of the Queens were switched on and, as if to contribute even more towards the excitement and atmosphere, all the shops had their lights full on too – it was so bright that it was almost like daylight!  It really was a magic atmosphere – there was a buzz in the air and a feeling of expectancy whilst we waited for the street entertainers to arrive.  And as the queues began to lengthen so the entertainers eventually did indeed arrive.

We kids were a noisy little lot and we started by cheering their arrival and then each act as he/she performed.  Neither were we shy of booing if we thought the act was poor.  We were becoming little connoisseurs and critics of street entertainment!  Some of these acts were very good indeed – in fact they should have been performing inside the theatre – not outside. Meanwhile the roasted peanuts vendor went round, the roasted chestnuts man remained stationary however, and the lady with a large basket over her arm laden with apples and oranges crying out and selling their wares – all of this thus adding to the old London atmosphere as they cried out to encourage people to buy.

Then the street artists began to perform and some of the singers were very good indeed.  Our favourites were old MUTTON-EYE – an old chap who came every Saturday dressed in a well worn black suit which had seen much better days – and he always wore a bowler hat. Under his arm he carried a small collapsible organ which he quickly assembled and then sang old music hall songs which made everyone laugh. At the end, round he went with his bowler hat and was grateful to receive what ever he was given by the crowd and then made way for the next entertainer. Next was an act the name of which now escapes me but they were two chaps dressed as Egyptians who did a sand dance.  They too were funny and amused everyone.  It was very nice how each artist completed his/her act and then quickly and unselfishly made way for the next artist whilst going round to collect a few pennies, or maybe more, if they were exceptionally good. But most people threw only a penny in – times were hard!

Occasionally the night was interrupted by a drunk being thrown out of The Ship – the pub Teddy Baldock bought for his parents after winning the World Bantamweight Boxing Championship in the late 1920s and which was also in the High Street. Either the drunk would be of the more sentimental type and would start singing NELLIE DEAN or DANNY BOY at the top of his voice – or – he was maybe a more aggressive type who wanted to fight the world! We kids would watch and it all contributed towards the wonderful atmosphere of Saturday nights in Poplar High Street.

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© John Earl 1958

Eventually the doors of the theatre would open and the queues would begin to slowly vanish inside.  The street entertainers would then leave followed by the peanut lady, the apples and oranges lady, and the roasted chestnut man.  Then they turned most of the theatre’s lights off and that was the signal for us kids to go home.  So we too vanished into the gloom of the night and it was quite remarkable when Poplar High Street changed from the brightly lit up street full of excitement and electric atmosphere it had been and was now just an ordinary street with just a few people passing by. But that hour or more which had passed was a golden period of time which, as far as I am aware, does not today exist anywhere in London or in the whole wide world come to that.

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The Coat of Arms above the door© John Earl 1958

That was a part of East London that has vanished into the annals of history.  We will never see the like of it again. The Queens was affected by the advent of TV and like so many provincial theatres, far too many in my humble opinion, closed it’s doors in the 1950s never to open again.  But what great stars had appeared there in days gone by: Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Marie Lloyd, Kate Carney and so many others.  Three times I witnessed the house being brought down. A truly dramatic experience.  Once by an artiste named VAN LUIN who dressed as a Dutchman with clogs and his act was yodelling and then he did imitations. His ended his performance with an imitation of Winston Churchill doing his famous speech that spurred us on so much in the war:  WE SHALL FIGHT ON THE BEACHES, WE SHALL FIGHT IN THE STREETS – WE SHALL NEVER SURRENDER – was immaculate, dramatic, and very life-like – in fact it was better than old Winnie himself !  Well the whole theatre went crazy and I thought the old place would collapse.  Then a West Indian singer, whose name I cannot now recall, who sang BEGIN THE BEGUINE in a way we had never heard before also brought the house down – a match between him and Julio Iglesias who had a big hit with the same melody in recent years would have been interesting.


Kate Carney ‘Coster Comedienne’

Finally I had the pleasure to see our old, dear, KATE CARNEY, an old music hall star of many years ago.  It was 1946 and I was in the Army by then.  My mother and father invited me to join them in a visit to The Queens.  I asked who is on ?  My mother replied – IT IS KATE CARNEY HERSELF !  I had heard of Kate for she was a legend in the East End, but I had never seen her perform We sat in the Stalls and the bar window stretched all along so the audience could see who was there.  My mother nudged my arm and said THAT’S KATE !  And there in the bar I saw an old lady, surrounded by Cockney pearlies with great plumed hats – the ladies that is ! They clearly showed that they absolutely adored her. She stood out because she had bright orange hair – and she must have been in her eighties!  I must say it looked rather peculiar.  Well, we watched the other ‘turns’ one after the other and then it was time for Kate.  She entered the stage and immediately the terrific cheering and stamping of feet began and she acknowledged this display of adoration with an exaggerated wave of her brightly coloured handkerchief – just like a queen.   And then she began her first song but at her old age her old powerful voice had gone and could only croak – it was obvious that she was quite unable to sing as she once did.  But never mind – the audience loved her as she croaked her way through her most famous old songs. But my word ! –  the way that dear lady controlled that audience had to be seen to be believed.  She had them all, every one of them, and me too !, in the palm of her hand – some of our present day entertainers could have learned a great deal from those old Music Hall entertainers. She came to the end of her repertoire but the crowd would not let her go – again and again she went off stage only to return because of the clamour of the audience.  But of course, it had to come to an end and dear old Kate saved her best to the last when she sang her old favourite ARE WE TO PART LIKE THIS BILL ?   And the crowd went wild.

Today, I am very sad to say that you will not find even a small plaque to show where the old theatre used to be – I believe an office block/warehouse was built on the site.  I think the powers that be in The Tower Hamlets perhaps do not know, or worse, do not care how important The Queens was to us East Enders – it was part of our history.   The Queens has gone now and is only remembered by people like me.  As a schoolboy I, quite illegally, worked at The Queens during the war – I told fibs to the owner Morrie Abrahams and said I was 15 but I was still a schoolboy and only 13 ! – my job was as spotlight boy shining the spotlights on all the pretty girls – in later years I was lucky enough to marry one of them!  As a boy I received 15/- (75p) per week for 6 nights and 2 shows per night.  I also had a paper round and stood outside Green & Siley Weir Shipyard in Blackwall Way, for which I received 3d per night, plus I peeled potatoes for the British Restaurant in the western part of Poplar High Street and received a free cooked lunch in return.  So, I was a busy little schoolboy – but quite a wealthy one!   Well, how else could I pay black market prices for my sweets and chocolate?   But what wouldn’t I give to be able to experience just one more magic Saturday night in Poplar High Street. I am not sure if my written words here do justice to those wonderful nights – they were terrific and I am so glad that I lived in that period and to see the wonders of the Music Hall


Each evening, except Sundays, I collected my newspapers from Poplar Railway Station, sold a few copies here and there, and waited for the crowds of dock workers to pour out at 5 pm and then all my newspapers were gone in about 5 minutes !  That was a crazy five minutes. Then it was home for a quick cuppa and off to the theatre to set up my spotlamp.  I usually came home at about 10.30 pm and my mother prepared something to eat for me.

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Outside of Queen’s Theatre (taken from the film Pool of London 1951)

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
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