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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tall Ship Kaskelot in West India Dock

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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Massey Shaw in front of Kaskelot

 

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Thomas Heath Robinson in Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs 1905

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

LONDON FOG.

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.

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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.

1891
FOG IN LONDON – TWENTY-FIVE PERSONS  DROWNED AT THE DOCKS
LONDON, DEC 25.
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.

1901

NOVEMBER FOG IN LONDON
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.

1921
SHIPS COLLIDE IN FOG.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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London Great Smog 1952

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

LONDON FOG KILLS  12,000

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.

LONDON FOG WAS POISONOUS LONDON.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The pub’s relative seclusion meant it was often a well known sight from the river and in the following newspaper report from 1832 was considered isolated enough for some bare knuckle fighting that had tragic results.

THE FANCY.-TWO MEN KILLED.

On Wednesday night, an inquisition was held at the King’s Head, Church-street. Deptford, before Joseph Carter, Esq Coroner. and a respectable jury, on the body of Richard Dodd, aged 27 years, who was killed under the following deplorable circumstances.

The deceased was a shoe-maker, and resided in Whiteheart yard, Coleman street. A month since, a match ‘was made between him and a man named James Cox, a shoemaker, at the Crispin public-house Milton Street to fight for two sovereigns, and Monday last was fixed for the fight. The two men dined together at the house of the deceased, and were quite friendly. After dinner they, with a host of their partisans proceeded to Battersea fields, where they fought 17 rounds, but being disturbed by the new police,  the seconds proposed that they should proceed to the Isle of Dogs to terminate the fight.

Thither they went, and a ring was formed near the Ferry House; but before the men set-to, they expressed a wish to draw the stakes,-and shake hands. The stakeholder, a man named Jordan, refused to give them up, saying, the money was placed in his hands for the them to fight, and he would be dead if they should not. Many persons, and the men themselves, remonstrated, but he and the seconds were inexorable, and the men then commenced fighting. Several blows were given on both sides, and the friends of Cox cried  to him ” Kill him, murder him.” After about 14 rounds, both men fell insensible to the ground, and were unable to come to  and they lay on the grass to all  appearance dead. Dodd was carried  in a boat to the Grampus hospital ship where he was attended to by Dr Lawson, and every thing that was possible was done to restore animation, but all to no purpose, and he expired in about an hour after. Cox was conveyed home in a dying state in a coach and the news arrived at the inquest-room, on Wednesday night  that he had also expired. Several witnesses were examined , but they were unable to identify any of the parties engaged’ in the fight, with the exception  of one man named Green, who held the clothes of the deceased He was apprehended and carried to the cage at Deptford ; the others have at present escaped. Dr Lawson stated that he had made a post mortem examination of ,the body, which was most frightfully disfigured and  found upwards of three ounces of coagulated blood on the brain, which was the cause of death.

At 11 o’clock, the Jury came to a determination to adjourn for further evidence to Friday, and the Coroner issued warrant against the seconds and Jordan the stakeholder, to enforce their attendance. The deceased persons were married men, and have left families to deplore their untimely death .

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.

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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

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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.

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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.