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Monthly Archives: April 2014

“Steering Christ” in Limehouse


“Steering Christ”

When I am travelling  past Limehouse station on the DLR , I am always fascinated by the statue of Jesus stuck aloft a tall chimney. Nobody else ever seems to take much notice but I always wondered how  this particular Limehouse landmark came about.


The chimney or tower belongs to the Our Lady Immaculate and St Frederick that looks out upon  Commercial Road.

The church’s origins lay in a mission founded in 1881 to serve the large Irish population that lived in the Limehouse area at the time. Using rooms around Limehouse  initially , the mission progressed to a temporary church until a more permanent church was planned in 1925.  However lack of finances delayed the project and it was left to the mission priest to supervise the five skilled workman and volunteers until they completed the church in 1934.


Whilst the church itself is quite traditional it does have number of features externally which are quite unusual.

The chimney like tower supports the ” Christ the Steersman ” or  “the Steering Christ” , it was designed to be seen from the Limehouse Basin and from the Thames and even considering the amount of development if you know where to look you can see still see the statue.


The statue’s curious design is supposed to be similar to  a ship’s figurehead and reflect Limehouse’s connection to the river and the Sea.


The north of the church has a small niche which contains a statue of the Virgin Mary and a clock, but in front of the church is a striking Cross showing Christ Crucified. The sculpture has a front and back view and was made in a local foundry.


On the west of the church halfway up the wall is a fibreglass sculpture of Our Lady with the Christ Child.


Once you know where the statue of ” the Steering Christ” is, it offers a reassuring presence as you wander the streets of Limehouse.  And if you are travelling on the DLR , try to spot it when you pass Limehouse station.






The Strange Story of Samuel Wood’s Accident 1737

William Hogarth_1747_Industry and Idleness - Plate 5 - The Idle 'Prentice turned away, and sent to Sea_263x345

Hogarth’s Idle Apprentice shows the windmills on the Isle of Dogs 1747

In the 18th century the Isle of Dogs were largely uninhabited but there were on the west side of the Island a series of windmills from as early as 1700s from which Millwall got its name.

One  Mill near to the top of the Island was built in 1730 and 61-year lease was granted  to Thomas Rawson, miller, of Poplar. The site, with 150ft of river frontage, covered three acres.

However it had a new owner in 1735  belonging to Nicholas Felton, miller, of Rotherhithe. It was in Felton’s windmill in 1737 that an accident took place and a young worker named Samuel Wood suffered a horrific injury.

L0018528 Samuel Wood, a man whose shoulder and arm were torn off in a

Samuel Wood engraving with an inset of how the accident happened

An article from Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II. Collected from the most authentic accounts extant (1819) gives us more details of the accident,

THIS man, a native of Worcestershire, was employed by a miller on the Isle of Dogs, nearly opposite Greenwich. On the 15th of August, 1737, being engaged as usual in the duty of the mill, he, unfortunately, at the time it was in full action, became entangled in the cogs of the wheel, which, carrying him completely round, placed him in the most imminent peril of his life, and lacerated his arm from his body. He was providentially thrown on a quantity of meal, but lay for a considerable time in a helpless condition before he was discovered ; and, on the day following the accident, was conveyed to St. Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, where he remained until a perfect cure was effected by surgeon Ferne.

With the money he collected, and the assistance of some friends, he was enabled, after his discharge from the hospital, to open a public-house in the Mile-end-road, and was living there in the year 1763. He also obtained the situation of a custom-house-officer.

What caused the considerable interest in the case was not just the accident  which was not probably that rare but the fact that Samuel Wood made a full recovery.


Another engraving of Samuel Wood with the Windmill in the distance

This attracted the interest of the medical profession and the accident was described in some detail by Guy’s Hospital surgeon John Belchier FRS (1706-1785) in the Philosophical Transactions.

Belchier was interested both in the severe nature of the accident  but also in Samuel’s survival.

Samuel Wood, about 26 Years of Age, Servant to  Mr Felton, being at work in one of the Mills near the Isle of Dogs,  and going to fetch a sack of corn from the further part of the Mill, in order to convey it up into the hopper, carefully took with him a rope, at the end of which was a Slip-knot, which he had put round his wrist; and passing by one of the large wheels, the cogs of it caught hold of the rope, and he not being able to disengage his Hand instantly, was drawn towards the Wheel, and raised off the Ground, till his body being check’d by the Beam which supports the Axis of the Wheel, his arm with the shoulder-blade was separated from it.

At the time the Accident happen’d, he says he was not sensible of any pain, but only felt a tingling about the wound, and being a good deal surprised, did not know that his arm was torn off, till he saw it in the wheel.

When he was a little recover’d, he came down a narrow ladder to the first floor of the Mill, where his brother was, who seeing his condition, ran, down stairs immediately out of the Mill to a house adjacent to the next Mill, which is about a hundred yards distant from the place where the Accident happen’d, and alarm’d the inhabitants with what had happen’d to his Brother, but before they could get out of the  house to his assistance, the poor man had walk’d by himself to within about ten Yards of the house, where, being quite spent by the great effusions of Blood, he fainted away, and lay on the Ground .

They immediately took him up, and carried him into the house, and strewed a large quantity of Loaf- Sugar powder into the Wound, in order to check the blood, till they could have the assistance of a Surgeon, whom they sent instantly for to Limehouse.

But the messenger being very much frightened, could not give the Surgeon a clear idea of the Accident, for that when he came to see the condition the man was in, he had no dressings with him for an Accident of that Kind ; but had brought with him an apparatus for a broken Arm, which he understood by what he could learn from the messenger to be the case; however, he sent home for proper dressings, and when he came to examine particularly into the Wound, in order to secure the large bloodvessels, there was not the least appearance of any, nor any effusions of blood ; for having first brought the fleshy Parts of the Wound as near together as he could by means of a needle and ligature, he dosed him up with a warm Digestive, and apply’d a proper Bandage.

The next Morning he open’d the wound again in Company with two Surgeons more ; and not perceiving any effusions of blood at that time, he dressed him as before, and sent him in the afternoon to St. Thomas’s Hospital, where he was admitted a patient under the Care of Mr Ferne, from which time he was constantly attended, in expectation of a haemorrhage of blood from the Subclavian Artery ; but there being no appearance of fresh Bleeding, it was not thought proper to remove the dressings during the space of four days, when Mr Feme open’d the Wound, at which time likewise there was not the least appearance of any bloodvessels  so he dressed him up again, and in about two months time the cure was entirely completed.

Upon examining the arm within a day or two after it was separated from the Body, I found the scapula fractured transversley, as were likewise the Radius and Ulna in two places : But whether these Bones were fractured before the arm was torn off, the man cannot possibly judge.

But what is very surprizing is, that the Subclavian Artery, which could never be got at to be secured by Art, should not bleed at all after the first dressing; the Artery being separated so happily, that when the parts of it were contracted, the fleshy parts pressed against the mouth of it, and prevented any effusion of blood.

As this case is very singular, and so remarkable, that no history can furnish us with any instance similar to it, in order to give a particular account of it, besides visiting the Man frequently, from his first admittance into the Hospital, and getting from him what Information he was capable of giving me, I went myself two days ago to the Mill where the accident happened,and inquir’d into every particular circumstance relating to the fact, of Mr Felton, with whom the Man work’d, the woman of the House where the man was carried into, and the Surgeon that dressed him, who all certified to me what is above related ; and for the farther satisfaction of the Society, I have brought the man himself, and likewise the arm, just as ’twas torn from his body, which has been kept in Spirits ever since the accident happen’d.

Although we might be appalled at Mr Belchier’s insensitivity at taking Samuel Wood and his detached arm to show to the Society, the fact was that the case made Samuel Wood into a bit of a celebrity and engravings of him and his arm were sold in the streets and may be how he was able to open the tavern in Mile End.

It  is clear from the Doctor’s report that in such a severe accident they would have expected Samuel to bleed to death or die from infections which was probably what happened to the majority of people who suffered such injuries, but what probably saved Samuel was that for some reason  he did not lose a lot of  blood and the wound was kept clean and was closed very quickly which prevented infection.


Lawn House and the Many Faces of Glen Terrace


Manchester Road (Glen Terrace)

Housing from the 19th century is relatively rare around the West India Dock area due to the docks themselves and the effect of bombing in the Second World War. One notable survivor is the row of terraced houses located near the Blue Bridge that was known as Glen Terrace which occupies a small piece of ground which has quite an interesting history.

dock row

Map shows Pilcher’s yard (Canal Dockyard) on the left 1870 and Glen Terrace on the right 1967)

After the City Canal in the early 1800s was built, small pieces of surplus land were sold, one of the buyers was Thomas Pilcher a shipbuilder who lay out a new dockyard,with two dry docks, and on the opposite side of the road, he built some small houses for his employees (Canal Row) and a large detached house for himself (Lawn House).

Lawn House built in 1812 was a spacious detached house with quite large gardens with fruit trees. The Pilcher family lived at Lawn House until the 1840s until it was sold with the rest of Pilcher’s Dockyard. However the new owners had little use for the house and presented the house rent free to the Sailors Home institution who provided moderately priced accommodation for seaman.

lawn house

Lawn House (The Sailors Home) 1854

Lawn House was refurbished and extended with 50 beds, a dining room, reading room and refreshment room. The Sailors Home opened in 1853, but for some unknown reason it was not a success and the house became a private residence again in 1858, then the East and West India Company bought it and used it for its employees from 1870 until 1941 when it was demolished due to bomb damage.

Lawn House may be gone but it is not forgotten because the area around Jack Dash House where the gardens used to be is now known as Lawn House Close.

lawn3Lawn House Close and back of Glen Terrace

Following the demolition of Canal Row and the widening of the roadway in 1877,the land was left unused except for one house built in 1881 and leased to a William Jabez Davis who opened a coffee house called the South Dock Coffee House.
The Dock was keen to let the other plots but could not attract any buyers till a William Warren offered £1550 for the freehold of the land. This was accepted and Warren and a builder served notice that they intended to build 20 houses on the site.

Affordable housing is often in the news especially in Docklands, however this is not only a modern phenomenon as is illustrated by the terrace of houses on Manchester Road which was previously known as Glen Terrace.


The new houses (with the earlier coffee house) were called Glen Terrace, after the Glen Shipping Line which temporarily had occupied the site in the early 1880s.

Part of the finance for the development was supplied by the Orient Permanent Building Society, of which William Warren was a director. The Society was keen to promote the virtues and advantages of owner-occupancy in East London.

Eventually they built a terrace of 17 two storey houses, two two-storey houses with shops and one three-storey house with a shop. The houses were begun in 1888 and completed in 1890 and were built to a higher standard than usual to appeal to owner occupiers.

Warren and the builder Larman sold the houses as freeholds, the average price the houses being about £350. But rather than being owner occupiers most of the buyers were ‘Buy to Let.’ In the 1891 census at least nine houses had multi occupation and the evidence was this increased to many of the other houses.

Although not a particularly unusual terrace, the builders did customise some the houses with a number of stone portraits around the porches and bay windows, many of the heads have strange headwear including  Top hats and bowlers. One or two seem to be putting their tongues out and others sport handlebar moustaches.

The reason why they decided to add these the faces to the otherwise ornate mouldings is unknown but it is likely that the builders were leaving their own particular mark on the properties, which over 120 years later are still there.




Easter Sunday at West India Dock


It may be typical Easter Bank holiday weather of grey skies and heavy rain but a walk around  a busy West India Dock  will provide plenty of interest.


Recent arrivals Super Yacht Kamalaya and Tall Ship Kaskelot  share the dock with the more longer stay residents Lord Amory the Dockland Scouts Training Ship, The Portwey  and the famous Massey Shaw.


Attending a small yachts rally is a large number of boats enjoying the berths beneath the Skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.


Small Yachts with the Massey Shaw and Portwey on the right


Dockland Scout ship Lord Amory ,Massey Shaw and Portwey


Boat Rally


Kayakers braving the weather

Remembering the London River by H. M. Tomlinson

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H. M. Tomlinson by Richard Murry 1927 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

Although Docklands is not known for its literary history, at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century there were a number of well known writers who were born or lived in the area. Arthur Morrison born in Poplar was known for his slum fiction, W W Jacobs born in Wapping was known for his bargee novels and horror stories and Jerome K Jerome moved to Poplar as a boy and spent his formative  years there.

Probably one of the most popular writers of his day was Henry Major Tomlinson who was born in Poplar in 1873 and  found  fame as a journalist and author.

Tomlinson grew up near the Docks and from early childhood developed a fascination with the sea and the ships that sailed into the docks.


After leaving school he got a job as a shipping clerk, but he desperately wanted to travel and secured a job as a journalist and eventually made his first journey abroad  by travelling in a expedition on a British Steamer up the Amazon. His first travel book The Sea and the Jungle (1912) was an account of this journey written when he returned back to London.

Although not a great success at the time , it has since been considered a classic travel book , however the book did lead to Tomlinson getting work as a journalist.

He managed to secure a position as an  official correspondent for the British Army, in France in World War I . However  In 1917 he was relieved of duty for not supporting the government line  and went  to work with H. W. Massingham on the anti-war newspaper The Nation. He left the paper in 1923, when Massingham resigned because of a change of ownership.


He had  considerable success with  his novel Gallions Reach (1927), and All Our Yesterdays (1930), but was better known for his travel books especially London River (1921).  London River is a series of  stories largely based on growing up near the docks towards the end of the tall ships and clipper era. In the following passage Tomlinson explains what makes ‘Docklands’ so unique.

Dockland would seem to others as any alien town would seem to me. There is something, though, you must grant us, a heritage peculiarly ours. Amid our packed tenements, into the dark mass where poorer London huddles as my shipping parish, are set our docks. Embayed in the obscurity are those areas of captured day, reservoirs of light brimmed daily by the tides of the sun, silver mirrors through which one may leave the dark floor of Poplar for radiant other worlds. We have our ships and docks, and the River at Blackwall when night and the flood come together, and walls and roofs which topmasts and funnels surmount, suggestions of a vagabondage hidden in what seemed so arid a commonplace desert. These are of first importance. They are our ways of escape. We are not kept within a division of the map. And Orion, he strides over our roofs on bright winter nights. We have the immortals. At the most, your official map sets us only lateral bounds. The heavens here are as high as elsewhere. Our horizon is beyond our own limits. In this faithful chronicle of our parish I must tell of our boundaries as I know them. They are not so narrow as you might think. Maps cannot be so carefully planned, nor walls built high enough nor streets confined and strict enough, to hold within limits our lusty and growing population of thoughts. There is no census you can take which will give you forewarning of what is growing here, of the way we increase and expand. Take care. Some day, when we discover the time has come for it, we shall tell our numbers, and be sure you will then learn the result. Travelling through our part of the country, you see but our appearance. You go, and report us casually to your friends, and forget us. But when you feel the ground moving under your feet, that will be us.

Tomlinson stresses the point that many who lived in Docklands were tied to the sea and to all points around the globe.

My eyes more frequently go to one place in that high country. In that distant line of warehouses is a break, and there occasionally I see the masts and spars of a tall ship, and I remember that beyond my dark horizon of warehouses is the path down which she has come from the Indies to Blackwall. I said we were not inland. Cassiopeia is in that direction, and China over there.

For my outlook is more than the centre of Dockland. I call it the centre of the world. Our high road is part of the main thoroughfare from Kensington to Valparaiso. Every wanderer must come this way at least once in his life. We are the hub whence all roads go to the circumference. A ship does not go down but we hear the cry of distress, and the house of a neighbour rocks on the flood and is lost, casting its people adrift on the blind tides.

Long ago nearly every home in Dockland treasured a lithographic portrait of one of the beauties, framed and hung where visitors could see it as soon as they entered the door. Each of us knew one of them, her runs and her records, the skipper and his fads, the owner and his prejudice about the last pennyworth of tar. She was not a transporter to us, an earner of freights, something to which was attached a profit and loss account and an insurance policy. She had a name. She was a sentient being, perhaps noble, perhaps wilful; she might have any quality of character, even malice. I have seen hands laid on her with affection in dock, when those who knew her were telling me of her ways.

london river

Tomlinson ‘s hey day was in the 1920s, when he was often compared to Conrad, he still published articles and books into the 1950s but although respected by his peers, his reputation with the public waned possibly because of his anti- war stance till he died in 1958.

In recent times his work is slowly being re-evaluated and some of his travel books especially are considered classics of their kind.

It is ironic that Tomlinson is writing about the passing of the age of sail and when we read him now it is with nostalgia for the passing of the docks themselves and of a way of life which he  illustrates with a series of  wonderful short stories.

Super Yacht Kamalaya in West India Dock


Super Yacht Kamalaya

This afternoon saw the  arrival of the Superyacht  Kamalaya into West India Dock.

Built in 2013 by Amels Holland  in the Netherlands, designed by  Tim Heywood, it is registered in George Town, Cayman Islands


Made of steel and aluminium, the 55-metre luxury yacht Kalamaya is powered by twin MTU 16V 2000 M70 diesels, reaching a top speed of 15,5 knots and a cruising speed of 13 knots, she has a beam of 9m (29’53”) and a maximum draught of 3,35m (10’99”).


The Yacht can comfortably accommodate up to 12 guests overnight in 6 cabins, comprising a master suite, She is also capable of carrying up to 13 crew onboard .


As is usual in the Super Yacht world, finding out who owns the yacht is surprisingly difficult and how long it will be in West India Dock, however it does not seem to available for charter .




Jorrocks and the Isle of Doggians 1835

hepburn157 hadley cross

Mr Jorrocks

Other than the shipyards, Blackwall in the 19th century was known for its Whitebait taverns and being a major embarkation point for people travelling by boat to destinations all over the world.

A humorous article by Robert Smith Surtees bring these two elements together in 1835.

Robert Smith Surtees (1803-64) trained to be solicitor, but turned his hand to a literary career as contributor to the Sporting Magazine. He bought out his own magazine the New Sporting Magazine where he invented the celebrated Mr Jorrocks, the Sporting Cockney Grocer who enjoyed country pursuits. The first books about Mr Jorrocks were illustrated by “Phiz” who later became famous for illustrating many books by Charles Dickens.
Jorrocks became very popular with the public for his satirical humour but also for the social observations. Many people believed that Charles Dickens in Mr Pickwick borrowed heavily from the Jorrocks character.


Mr Jorrocks and his family

In this piece Jorrock’s friend Sims has asked him to dine at one of the Blackwall Whitebait Taverns, Jorrocks is always ready for a meal but is dismayed to find a rag tattle army ready to depart from Blackwall  to Spain. (the unusual spellings were part of Surtees humour)

Sims asked if I would toddle down to the Isle of Dogs with him and see the chaps wot were going out to raise the price of Spanish, and dine at Blackwall after — Agreed. Set off about three, and walked to the Dogs expecting to see a fine army of soldiers, with Evans in a cocked hat and feather, strutting about like a turkey- cock, at their head, instead of which found nothing but three or four hundred regular lousy, house breaking, pick-pocket-looking little fellows, some in ragged coats and hats like extinguishers, and many without either hats or coats, lounging about the old steam washing company’s premises opposite Greenwich.

Was amazed ! It will be ” look to your pockets” when they land. — One chap had chalked on the wooded wall at the back, ” a citizen of the City of Lushington is going to Spain.” Was very glad to getaway from among them without being hustled and robbed.

Walked on to the ” Plough” at Blackwall. — Have never missed dining there for the last twenty years. — Capital ouse and much improved of late. — Have made a new coffee-room below. — Three fine dishes o’ fish, Eels, Sounders, white bait, with weal cutlets, and all sorts o’ wegitables for 3s. a head — Port and punch after — Both superb.

Lord Nelson, as I calls the old Water Bailiff, and a lot o’ City chaps dining next door, at the Heartichoke — Werry merry — Had the barge down, all red and gold, with sixteen men in red breeches to row them.

Blackwall’s a beautiful place — The sun always shines there, and the Kentish-hills all werdant with trees, and Greenwich Ospital opposite, and the steamers passing every five minutes, and the green sedgey banks with the white posts opposite and the large ships sailing majestically down, like the swans in St. James’s-park, all make it werry, werry lovely. — Think they have perhaps destroyed the romance of the place by taking away the pirates wot used to hang in chains on the gibbets at the sweep of the river.

The rag tattle army were the  recruits of the British Auxiliary Legion assembled prior to embarkation to Spain, the majority of the Army had no fighting experience and had been recruited amongst the poor in London, their poor appearance led them to be called the “Isle of Doggians”.

Out of the almost 10,000 men sent to Spain, a quarter died and many returned within three years, their commanding officer  Sir George De Lacy Evans was an experienced Army officer who had fought in the United States and at Waterloo.


Sir George De Lacy Evans in 1855

He was also an Member of Parliament  for Rye and Westminster.

The reference to the pirates in the gibbets was because in 1834, legislation was passed to prevent the use of gibbets next to the river.


Jorrocks Statue at East Croydon by John Mills (who also created the River Man on Marsh Wall)

Race Day – The London Marathon 2014 on the Isle of Dogs


Well, all the preparations have been completed, the barriers have been erected and the day of the race arrives.

From early morning , various supporters begin to stake their claim to a section of the course and wait in anticipation.


It is not often that the Isle of Dogs is the centre of a global event that is shown on television in more that 150 countries around the world.

Marcel Hug pipped GB’s David Weir to win in men’s wheelchair race.


The Elite Women with including winner Edna Kiplagat, Florence Kiplagat second, Tirunesh Dibaba 3rd


Richard Whitehead


Elite Men with Wilson Kipsang who wins men’s London Marathon in new course record of 2:04.27.

Stanley Biwott, who finished second, while Tsegaye Kebede , last year’s winner, who comes out on top to cross the line third.


Lots of support for Olympic Champion Mo Farah who finished eighth in his first Marathon


Once the elite races are finished the streets are taken over by the vast amount of the runners who have their own challenges.








A Guide to the London Marathon 2014 on the Isle of Dogs


It is safe to say that although Canary Wharf is often in the news, the rest of the Isle of Dogs is seldom the focus of national and international interest. However this always changes on the day of the London Marathon when the normally quiet streets are filled by thousands of runners and thousands of spectators.

This year there is even greater interest with Britain’s Mo Farah making his marathon debut and one of the greatest runners of all time Haile Gebrselassie  acting as pacemaker.

Also running will be the world record holder Wilson Kipsang, the reigning London Marathon champion Tsegaye Kebede, the world and Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich,  Priscah Jeptoo, the reigning women’s champion is back  and  David Weir  Britain’s greatest ever wheelchair racers, is going for a record seventh win.

Due to the fact that many people may be unfamiliar with the Isle of Dogs I thought I would do a mini guide to the Isle of Dogs.

The race enters the Island at Mile 15 when it comes onto Westferry Road , this is a long road down the side of the west side of the Island. Lots of shops and a few pubs here and most of the spectators will be locals .

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Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre

Just before Mile 16 you will pass the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre  which leads into the Millwall Docks and  is often filled with small yachts overlooked by the old cranes standing next to the dock.


Island Gardens

The sweep around the bottom of the Island takes you near Island Gardens which has wonderful views of Greenwich and the river. Here is also the entrance and exit of the Greenwich foot tunnel.

Going up the East Ferry Road to  mile 17 you will see the greenery of Millwall Park on the right and the Mudchute DLR on the left.

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Mudchute Farm

Just past Mudchute you will see the entrance to Mudchute Farm and Park ,one of the  biggest inner city farms in Europe.

A little further on you have Asda on the right and Crossharbour DLR on the left, then the route takes you further up to Limeharbour adjacent to Millwall Dock  and then onto Marsh Wall .


Kaskelot in South Dock

A short run down along Marsh Wall to South Quay DLR, (if you go into the South Dock you will find the tall ship Kaskelot) is followed by a run past the International Hotel to mile 18, there is a quick switchback into the Canary Wharf estate for Mile 19.


Canary Wharf

Canary Wharf has become a popular watching base for many spectators due to its proximity to the transport system and the over 200 shop, bars  and restaurants.

The race then goes out to Poplar to begin the long stretch home.

Some of the benefits of watching the Marathon n the Isle of Dogs is that you can actually watch in comfort rather than being part of the massive crowds in Greenwich and Tower Bridge. You also have easy access to the Transport system and access to many pubs and bars, restaurants.

To make sure you are in the right place at the right time here is rough time guide .

Start time 

The wheelchair race starts at 8.55am

The elite women’s field: 9.15am

Elite men and mass start: 10am

At Mile 17 (Mudchute )

Approximate times when pass Mudchute

Wheelchairs 9:53 (men), 10:06 (women);

Elite women from 10:45

Elite men from 11:21

The masses  from 12:16.

The Monks of Cubitt Town


Aelred  Carlyle

The history of the Isle of Dogs often produces strange and unusual stories, however very few people would expect the Island to be the site of first Anglican Benedictine community of monks at the end of the 19th century.

The charismatic leader behind the “Monks of Cubitt Town” was a young Anglican medical student named Benjamin Fearnley Carlyle whose interest in monastic life was part of a wider movement which looked to return to the simple life as an antidote to the problems of the industrialised modern world. Carlyle or Brother Aelred as he called himself believed you could lead a contemplative life but also provide service, helping the poor.


The Priory (many thanks to Mick at islandhistory.wordpress.com for sending photo)

In 1896 he was invited to come and live with some of his followers  at a large house at 45 Glengall Road which became known as the Priory. Within a few months the house was fitted out with a chapel, library and club room. Over the next two years Brother Aelred and his followers began to live according to Benedictine rules with help and support from the local clergy especially Reverend D. G. Cowan of St John’s on the Isle of Dogs. Although there is little evidence to exactly what the Brothers did, the Booth Poverty survey noted that not everyone welcomed their presence, apparently there was an article in The Cubitt Town Protestant Banner, a parish magazine April 1897 which includes an article criticising the work of the Cubitt Town monks.

Although they were living the lives of monks, they were not officially sanctioned as such by church. At the end of 1897, Brother Aelred went to see the local vicar, Rev Cowans and told him that he thought his pastoral work was preventing him from living a Benedictine life and he wanted a quieter life in the country. He also wanted official recognition for the Anglican Benedictine monks. Rev Cowan wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask him to see Brother Aelred which he did in 1898, the outcome of the meeting was the Archbishop sanctioned for him to live according to Benedictine Rule.

This move was not without its controversy, although it was recognised that the revival of Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods in the 19th century may be good for the church, there was considerable concern that the new communities would be outside the authority of the church itself.

Nevertheless in 1898 Brother Aelred went back to the Priory and began to find a new home for his now official monks of the Anglican church. caldeyis

Caldey Abbey

Over the next few years the community went from place to place until they found a more permanent home in Cadley Island in Wales in 1906. In 1913 the uneasy alliance between the community and the Anglican authorities come to open rebellion when almost the entire community converted to Catholicism.

Father Aelred was ordained as Benedictine Abbot of Caldey in 1914, where he stayed before resigning in 1921 and moving to Canada to undertake missionary work in Canada for the next 30 years. The other monks in 1928 went to Prinknash Park where they still have a community.

In 1951, Aelred returned to England, and in 1953 he was allowed to renew his  monastic vows at Prinknash Abbey.

When Aelred died in 1955, he was once again a full member of the community he had founded on the Isle of Dogs sixty years earlier.

In the late 19th century, the Isle of Dogs was often visited by a number of religious organisations who often set up  missions to work with the poor.  Although the Isle of Dogs had its poor areas it did not have the extreme social conditions of some of the other parts of the East End. Therefore it was not a surprise that the Monks of Cubitt Town was not welcomed with open arms by the local population.

The history of Brother Aelred perhaps suggests he was more interested in the romantic image of a religious community rather than reality of inner city communities, however the Monks of Cubitt Town did create their own piece of religious history on the Island by founding the first Anglican Benedictine community of monks.