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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Island History : George Green’s School Days – A Living Legacy

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In recent months, I have written about some of the many initiatives looking into the history of the Island. The latest initiative is an exciting project being undertaken by George Green’s School, they have been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to enable a group of young people from the school to investigate the school’s links to local history connected to shipbuilding, the docks, and the development of Docklands.

Laurence, Samuel, 1812-1884; George Green (1767-1849)

Laurence, Samuel; George Green (1767-1849); National Maritime Museum

The young people will learn research skills by exploring the Island History Trust collection at Tower Hamlets’ Local History Archives and visiting the National Maritime Museum which holds material connected to George Green and his family. Students will take part in activities such as photography with well-known photographer Mike Seaborne, and be trained in oral history interviewing by Eastside Community Heritage. They will produce an exhibition of photographs, a book and an exhibition of images and text. National Maritime Museum curators will also provide them with a workshop on how to create their own ‘pop up museum’. The project will form the central theme of two large scale public events and exhibitions in the Autumn, where young people and the local community come together to exchange ideas and memories and celebrate the local heritage of this unique part of East London.

Dixon, William, 1775-1830; View of Mr Perry's Yard, Blackwall

Dixon, William; View of Mr Perry’s Yard, Blackwall; National Maritime Museum

George Green was an interesting character who was an apprentice at Perry’s famous Blackwall yard which built and repaired many of the ships owned by the East India Company. In 1796, Green married Perry’s daughter and gradually took over parts of the company. In the 1820’s , George Green founded a line of popular passenger sailing vessels to India and Australia, known as the Blackwall frigates and became involved in the whaling trade. He made a considerable fortune and retired in the 1830s to undertake philanthropic works which included almshouses, sailors homes, a chapel and schools, the first George Green’s School was founded in 1828 in East India Dock Road.

Callow, H. J.; The Blackwall Frigate 'Maidstone' at Sea

Callow, H. J.; The Blackwall Frigate ‘Maidstone’ at Sea; National Maritime Museum

This year George Green’s School, will be 40 years old on its current site on the Isle of Dogs. The project will celebrate the history and heritage of the school with young people  making connections with members of the local community and ex-pupils to collect personal memories of the school, both at its current location on the Isle of Dogs, and on its previous site in Poplar.

If you went to George Green’s School when it was in Poplar or on the Island and would like to share your memories, the project would like to hear from you.

For further information you can contact Jane O’Sullivan at George Green’s School via email at josullivan@georgegreens.com or telephone 0207 967 6032 ext 527

Polish Navy Sailing Ship ORP Iskra in West India Dock

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After a quiet period in West India Docks, we welcome the Sailing Vessel ORP ISKRA which is a Polish Navy training ship. Like many navies around the world, Poland use their sailing ships to train cadets. The ship was built in Gdansk Shipyard and was launched in 1982.

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ORP ISKRA is one of three sailing ships in the Polish Navy, the others that were also built in the 1980s are the Pogoria and Kaliakra.


ORP ISKRA is the second sailing ship in Polish Navy with the same name. The original had a remarkable history and sailed for over 50 years. ORP ISKRA is a three – masted barquentine and has participated in a number of Tall Ships races and is a familiar sight in ports around the world.

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It is not known how long the ship will be in the dock but is the latest of a number of tall ship visitors over the last 18 months.

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Whilst not one of the larger Tall ships. It is remarkable to consider that ORP ISKRA has sailed around the world a number of times and offers its crew and cadets the thrill of sailing in all the major oceans.

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Eric Pemberton managed to get a photograph of the ISKRA entering West India Dock.


Shipbuilding on the Isle of Dogs : The Story of the Samuda Brothers



HMS Tamar built in the Samuda Dockyard 1863

The Samuda Estate  on the Isle of Dogs was built-in the 1960s and is known for its interesting but rather complicated layout, probably less well-known is the story of the Samuda brothers who the estate is named after.


Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda – Vanity Fair 1873

Joseph D’Aguilar Samuda was born in 1813, the son of an East and West India merchant of Finsbury. He became an engineer, shipbuilder, MP and founder-member of the Institution of Naval Architects. In the 1830s he joined his brother Jacob as partner in an ironworks and engineering yard at Southwark. In 1843, the brothers leased some land on the Goodluck Hope peninsula near Orchard Place and set out a shipyard which specialized in the construction of iron steamships.

However tragedy struck in 1844 when Jacob and nine of Samudas engineers and workmen were killed in an accident during the trial trip of the Gipsy Queen, one of the first ships to be built by the Samudas.

Some of the details of the accident were given in a newspaper report.

About five o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, a most frightful and fatal accident, involving the death of seven persons, occurred on board the steam boat Gypsy Queen, lying at one of the Blackwall buoys off the Brunswick Pier. Besides loss of life, there are five persons more or less injured by the unfortunate occurrence, and who were conveyed to the London Hospital, one or two with slight hopes of recovery. It would appear that the unfortunate vessel (the Gipsy Queen) is a new iron steam-boat, of about 500 tons burden, having two engines of 150 horse power each. The boat is the first built by the firm of Jacob and Joseph Samuda, who, within the last two years, took premises in Bow-creek, for the purpose of carrying out their intention of building steam-boats.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon the vessel left the creek for an experimental trip, having on board about 20 persons, including Mr Benjamin Samuda, the principal of the firm. She went down the river to below Woolwich in gallant style, answering all the expectations of her constructors. On her return to Blackwall she was moored to one of the buoys, where it was intended she should remain all night, and be got ready for another trip the following day, In a short time after the vessel had been made fast, an explosion was heard by persons on the Brunswick Pier to proceed from the direction of the steamer, and almost immediately afterwards, cries for boats proceeded from the same quarter. Not a moment was lost in making towards the steamer, when the most heart-rending sight presented itself to those who went to the rescue. Five persons were there found, apparently in a state of madness, running to and fro the deck, screaming with anguish, while their appearance showed that their lamentations were real. With all speed they were conveyed on shore and met with every attention. The agonizing cries of these unfortunate persons were said to be dreadful. They begged for cold water to quell the scalding heat they were suffering in their throats, and when the cooling fluid was applied to the mouths of one or two, the skin from their lips peeled off as though under the influence of a scaring iron. They were conveyed, without loss of lime, to the London Hospital. It is well known to those who went on board that the above five were not the only sufferers ; but, alas  for them there was no means of escape; they were in the engine-room which was so filled with steam, that to get them out was impossible until the scalding vapour had escaped. In order, therefore, to facilitate their extrication, the decks were cut up with pickaxes, adzes, crowbars. Seven human forms, scalded to death, were there discovered. Six of them were shortly after recognised and proved to be Mr. Jacob Samuda, the head of the firm ; Dodds, engineer; James Saunders, also an engineer, appointed to the Gipsy Queen, and who only went on board a few hours before he lost his life; Mr. Scofield, engine-fitter at the factory of the Messrs. Samuda ; Thomas Nugent, an apprentice; John Newman, stoker ; and a man whose name is not yet known, be having been employed only a few hours by the firm.

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Samuda Explosion 1845 – National Maritime Museum

After the shock of the accident, more bad luck continued in 1845 when there was a fatal explosion in the yard’s engine house. In spite of these setbacks, Joseph Samuda persevered with the business and was so successful that by the early 1850s the firm needed larger premises. Although Joseph Samuda concentrated on shipbuilding, he was also involved in the development of the short-lived atmospheric railway in the mid-1840s.


Joseph established the firm as iron and steel shipbuilders in a new yard near Manchester Road in Cubitt Town in 1852. Samuda Brothers became pioneers in their use of steel in shipbuilding, gaining a good reputation for constructing warships, steam packets, and other craft of iron and steel in a fast and efficient way. In the 1860s the yard expanded and for a while Samudas was one of the top dockyards in London. The firm built ships for emerging foreign naval powers such as Germany, Russia and Japan.


The interior of one of the Samuda ships

Such was the reputation and efficiency of the firm, they managed to keep trading when many other dockyards closed down in the 1860s. Samudas continued in business until Joseph’s death in 1885. Once the existing contracts had been completed the yard was closed. The site was then used by number of industries until it was badly damaged by bombing in August 1941. After the war the wharf was used for the storage until the 1950s when the site was purchased by the LCC for new housing.

Samuda Estate is a reminder that the ties to the past are there if you want to do a little investigation, few people walking past today would realise that the site was one of the great Victorian London dockyards.


The First Docklands Railway : The Story of the London and Blackwall Railway


West India Docks and LBR – The Literary World, 1840.

Anyone who has travelled on the Docklands Light Railway to Bank or Tower Gateway will have no doubt enjoyed the view from the train high above ground level.  It might be a surprise to many that one of the most modern London railways is travelling on viaducts which are well over 150 years old and are part of the intriguing story of the First Docklands Railway.  A newspaper report from 1840 provides some of the details about the innovative London and Blackwell Railway.

London and Blackwell Railway 1840

A new and important addition to the vast internal resources of this country was made on Saturday by the opening of the London and Blackwall Railway, running between the Minories and the river at Blackwall, presenting to the commercial world an immense saving of time, risk, and expense. The tedious and perilous navigation from Blackwall to London Bridge may now be entirely avoided, which heretofore has occupied more than one-fifth of the whole passage to Gravesend, and the Pool itself may at the same time be relieved from the dangerous presence of the large steamers and other vessels which may henceforth transmit their passengers and cargoes to the heart of the City, by the medium of this railway in the space of ten minutes.


London and Blackwall Railway Minories 1841

Another feature of interest in this railway is the novel nature of its mode of operation. The carriages being propelled by the agency of an enormous rope instead of by steam, a medium which, for a short distance, appears to be effective and perhaps more pleasant and agreeable in the motion than the latter power. The process is this-:

The trains are propelled to Blackwall by means of two stationary engines of 120 horse power each which are worked in shafts sunk into the earth to 4 the right and left of the lines. To these engines fly-wheels, or as they are technically termed ” drums, ” are attached, each of which is of the ponderous weight of forty-three tons, and are twenty-two feet in diameter. A ” tail ” rope is fastened to the drums, which is wound and unwound at each end by the stationary engines, there being also two engines of seventy-horse power each sunk beneath the Blackwall terminus. As the train proceeds to the latter place the drums at the London terminus unwind the rope by which the carriages are to be again drawn to London: and to prevent the rope flying across the sheaves on which it runs too rapidly, and thus becoming entangled, in consequence of no weight being attached to it, an ingeniously contrived break is placed on the platform by the side of the railway. at which a man is employed to regulate the unwinding of the rope. The rope is not an endless one, similar to ‘that employed at the Euston Square station of the Birmingham railway, but it is in two parts, namely, one for propelling carriages to Blackwall, and the other from that place. It was manufactured by Sir Joseph Huddart and Co. of Limehouse, and cost upwards of £1,200. The drums take 80 turns to every mile of the ropes, each of which is three miles and half in length.

The electric telegraph is the next object of attraction, and it is enclosed in a neat mahogany case, which is so far as it is seen, above the ground and a small bell announces when the train is to be put in motion. The telegraph is the invention of Messrs. Cook and Wheatstone, and enables parties at each end of the railway to ‘hold conversation with each other. At each of the intermediate stations one of the telegraphs is placed to enable the servants of the railway to communicate with the engineers of the terminus and it was stated that notice of any impediment or casualty might be given at an intermediate station to one of the termini, and from thence conveyed to the other end of the line in the short space of three seconds.

Blackwall station

Blackwall Station

The Blackwall terminus is roofed in a light and elegant manner, and every precaution appears to have been taken to preserve the carriages and protect the travellers from the weather at inclement seasons. At the London terminus the roof is only temporary, as it is intended to complete,as soon as possible, the remainder of the line to Fenchurch-street, where a grand terminus will be erected. Adjoinging the Blackwall terminus, capacious offices and store-rooms have been built immediately fronting the river, the Brunswick Wharf and property, belonging to Sir Robert Ingram having been purchased for that purpose. The architectural part of the railway is neat and unostentalious and was designed by William Tite, Esq, the successful candidate for the building of the New Royal Exchange. The line proceeds on a series of arches from the Minories to the West India Docks, across the Regent’s-canal and the Lea. The span of the arches crossing the canal and river is from thirty to forty feet, and from the West India Docks the line runs upon an embankment, and the ground falls into a very rapid decline of 1 to 150. So that from the Marsh to the Blackwall terminus the embankment is but a few inches in height. The difference is the level of the line from one end to the other is l8 feet. The three intermediate stations, namely the Stepney, the Limehouse, and the Marsh, are exceedingly neat externally, and conveniently fitted up internally for passengers who have to wait for the trains.

The railway is fenced in with a light and ornamental iron palisade, and the ironwork also presents a more pleasing view to the eye as Mr Jackson, the builder, had the contract for the London end, Mr Webb for the centre, and Messrs Peto and Glissell for the Blackwall terminus of the railway. The length of the railway at present is three miles and a quarter, when it is carried on to Fenchurch-street it will be three miles and a half. The works hitherto have cost about £150,000. The stationary engines, it was said cost about £30,000.

The carriages are of a deep blue colour picked, out with gold, and the panels bear the City arms surmounted by a steam vessel, the whole encircled with the words, “The London and Blackwall Railway Company” The first class carriages are of the usual description, except that there are no elbows to the seats. They are each divided into three compartments, and are intended to hold thirty-two passengers. The fare to either of the stations will be 6d. by the first class, and 3d by the second class. The second class carriages are of the same construction as those of the Manchester and Leeds Railroad, and are termed by engineers, ” Stand-up,” there being no seats to them, and the passengers having to stand during the journey.

The line opened in 1840, and the company changed its name to the London and Blackwall Railway on completion of an extension to Fenchurch Street in 1841. A line from Stepney  linking it with the Eastern Counties Railway at Bow was opened in 1849, became known as the London and Blackwall Extension Railway (LBER).

In 1849, it was decided the rope mechanism was too inefficient and the railway converted to steam, other branch lines were added including the Millwall Extension Railway which served the Millwall Docks and later the line was extended to North Greenwich ( Island Gardens).


Towards the end of the 19th century and early 20th century the line took passengers and goods to the various docks and to Blackwall that had for centuries been a major embarkation and imbarkation point in London. However , passenger traffic was closed on the railway in 1926 as a result of competition from trams. The carrying of goods carried on until 1968 before that was closed down and much of the track ripped up.


Remarkably, the first Docklands Railway may have closed but much of its infrastructure was reused as part of the Docklands Light Railway. When the Docklands Light Railway opened in 1987, it used much of the L&BR line between Minories (Tower Gateway) and Westferry. When you are using the DLR between these points or walking next to the large impressive arches, the viaducts give a few clues to their origins has part of the track of one of London’s earliest railways.


Dutch Tall Ship Eendracht in West India Dock – 4th July 2016


On a grey humid afternoon, we welcome another tall ship in West India Dock with the arrival of the Eendracht, The Eendracht is a three-masted schooner from the Netherlands, built in 1989 at the Damen shipyard and designed by W. de Vries Lentsch. She is run by Stichting het Zeilend Zeeschip (the Sailing Seaship Foundation) and used as a sail training ship to give young people some experience of sailing. This is the second “Eendracht”, the first vessel owned by the foundation was a two masted schooner, which was sold when the foundation realised it was too small for its purposes.


The Eendracht is the Netherland’s largest three-masted schooner, the ship measures nearly 60 meters (193 ft 7 in)  in length and 13 meters (40 ft 4 in) in width.


This three-masted vessel has sailed continuously since her launch date with a pool of crew of around 350 mostly professional, volunteers. The ship has a capacity of 40 passengers and 13 crew for each voyage.


The Eendracht regularly participates in the Tall Ships’ Races offering youngsters between the age of 15 and 26 the experience of a lifetime sailing all over the world.


Like many other training tall ships, it has been the foundation’s mission to give youngsters  the opportunity to explore the sea, education and maritime knowledge are important aspects of the training.


The ship has royal connections, in 1989 Her Majesty Queen Beatrix baptized the Eendracht and the ship still has close ties with the Dutch royal family.  The office of the foundation and the main port of the Eendracht are located in Rotterdam. The ship last visited West India Dock in September 2015 and is a common sight in tall ship races around the world.


Regular contributor Eric Pemberton was able to take some photographs of  the tall ship has she made her way into the West India Dock