Last week, I reported on the new Island Board Walk initiative which had revamped many of the heritage boards dotted around the Island. To find out more about the boards, I decided to follow the trail to give readers some indication of the amazing history of this small part of East London.
The first board on the trail is near the Newcastle Drawdock which was part of Cubitt’s initial development of the riverside in the 1840s. The board is entitled School days which acknowledges the nearby presence of George Green School which has been providing education since the 1970s.
Wallking a little bit further and you will arrive at Island Gardens with its wonderful views and attractive gardens, there is also the entrance to the foot tunnel if you fancy a quick visit to the other side of the river.
If you decide to carry on the trail, it is a short walk to the Ferry House, the oldest pub on the Island. Across the road from the pub is Johnson’s drawdock next to the Poplar and Blackwall Rowing club. Johnson drawdock was part of a large part of riverside frontage owned by Henry and Augustus Johnson in the 1840s. This is also a spot near to the ferry point from the Island to Greenwich which was widely used for centuries until the opening of the foot tunnel.
For many of the Island population , this drawdock gave access to the river and the board carries memories of people who when children would swim across the river to Greenwich.
Walking further around the Island, the classical views of Greenwich are replaced by the various developments across the river, it illustrates that similar to the Island, most of the riverfront were used by industries. The building of housing developments have still not dominated the southside but many developments are being planned or being built.
The next board is in front of Burrell’s Wharf and illustrates one of the businesses that dominated this part of the riverfront, Burrell & Company were oil refiners and manufacturers of paints, varnishes and colours. From the late 1880s until the early 1920s a number of stores, warehouses and workshops appeared on the site. Earlier buildings on the site were also used especially from the famous Scott Russell and Fairbairn’s works.
The board pays tribute to the many women who worked in the many industries on the Island, Burrell’s employed many women in their business until it closed in 1986.
A little further along the riverfront is another board which marks the location of one of Islands most famous events, the launch of the Great Eastern in 1857.
In the 19th century, the Thames foreshore from Blackwall around the Isle of Dogs to Limehouse was known for the many shipyards. However, the building of the Great Eastern between 1854 and 1859 at the Millwall Iron works was on a scale never seen before. It was undertaken by Isambard Kingdom Brunel the most famous engineer of his day and John Scott Russell the famous Naval architect. The ship was four times bigger than any ship built before weighing 21,000 tons, 692ft long with a beam of 83ft.
One of the major problems was how to launch the ‘monster ship’, Brunel’s solution was to launch the ship sideways using chains and cradles. Unfortunately, the ship got stuck and it took months to finally float the ship in the Thames, by this time Brunel and the shipbuilders became a bit of a laughing stock. The ship seemed ill fated and had significant problems before it was ready for service. Remarkably part of the wooden structure from the launch is still there and looking down onto the foreshore, further remains of the launch can be spotted.
This part of the walk covers the south end of the Island, the next part will take us along the western side usually associated with Millwall. This side was the location of windmills in the 18th century before the building of the West India Docks which transformed this rural part of the Island into an industrial and trading centre.
The Boards are a great introduction to the Island and this project provides plenty of interest, the new audio tour has been devised to coincide with the launch of the walk and will be available to download as a podcast from the website: www.islandboardwalk.com/audio-trail It is derived from exclusive interviews with those who live and work on the island and provides real insights into the past, present and future of the Island.
‘Free’ Leaflet/Trail Maps which are available to download online and to collect from The Ship pub, The George pub, HubBub cafe bar and restaurant, Cubitt Town Library and the Great Eastern pub by the School Day’s board at start of the trail.
For downloads and more information visit: