Home » 2016 » December

Monthly Archives: December 2016

West India Dock Visitors Review 2016


It is that time of the year when people begin to review the past 12 months, carrying on the tradition from previous years, we are listing the ships that have visited West India Docks in the last year.

With all the development surrounding West India Dock and Canary Wharf, there was some concern that the number visiting the dock would be severely curtailed but although numbers were down a little, we still had an interesting mix of ships and boats.


Some old Tall Ships favourites returned, the Stad Amsterdam, Stavros S Niarchos, STS Lord Nelson, STS Tenacious, Alexander von Humboldt II and Eendracht.

However there were visits from other Tall Ships including the impressive American USCGC Eagle and the Mexican Cuauhtémoc.


Super Yachts seem to be getting bigger and more lavish and we had a number of Super Yacht’s returning to the dock including the very expensive Ilona and Kismet.


There were visits from a number of Navy Ships especially from France and Germany . HMS Duncan, HMS Severn and HMS Kent visited on behalf of the Royal Navy.


There was a degree of nostalgia when  the Thames Sailing Barges had an open day and parade, once made in their thousands, they were the workhorses of the Thames trade and watching them going down the river was one of the treats of the year.  


The Massey Shaw, The Portwey and the Lord Amory which are permanently moored in the dock provide year round interest.

 Super Yachts

Super Yacht Force India

Super Yacht Lady S

Super Yacht Kismet

Super Yacht Ilona

Super Yacht Jamaica Bay

Super Yacht Grace E


Tall Ships

 STS Lord Nelson

Stavros S Niarchos

Alexander von Humboldt II

Dutch Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam

Polish Navy Sailing Ship ORP Iskra

Dutch Tall Ship Eendracht

American Tall Ship USCGC Eagle

Mexican Tall Ship Cuauhtémoc

Navy Ships

German Navy Ships

FGS Main,

FGS Siegburg 

FGS Pegnitz


Royal Navy Ships

HMS Severn

HMS Kent

HMS Duncan

French Navy Ships

FNS Scarpe

FNS Aramis

FNS Céphée

FNS Laplace

FNS Flamant

Swedish Navy

Swedish Navy training ship HMS Falken



Sailing Yacht Anakena

Association of Thames Yachts

Thames Sailing Barge Parade and Open Day

May we wish all our readers a Happy New Year and we look forward to the new visitors to the dock in the New Year.

Tales of London’s Christmas Past


Well as we approach another Christmas period and London is facing strikes and other inconveniences, it would be easy to sink into negativity. However if you look at some of the following newspaper reports from London’s past, perhaps it is time to reconsider and count our blessings.


Drink and Christmas have been synonymous for centuries, but for one reporter in 1876, things had gone too far  

1876 – Dissipation at Christmas.

Tue 26th of December. falling last year upon a Sunday, Boxing Day was celebrated on the 27th, and London, as a consequence enjoyed a triduum of festival, dissipation and cessation from all work. On Monday, the spectacles of the streets were simply disgusting. The shops were all open, but the Gin places and public houses were open and doing a roaring trade. The whole atmosphere reeked with vile tobacco smoke and was poisoned by the alcoholic exhalations from tens of thousands of mouths. No greater curse can be imagined for the masses in their present condition and with their present tastes, than the compulsory Saturnalia, which, thanks to Sir J. Lubbock’s Bank Holiday Act, Christmas brings with it.;

The charges at the metropolitan and provincial police courts on the following day usually give us an idea of how Boxing Day is spent by the multitude. The London police say of the present year that the Christmas drunkenness is in excess of past years. At Marlborough street there were on Tuesday morning. Twenty four “‘Christmas charges'” at Southwark nineteen, at Clerkenwell thirty five, and at-Worship-street forty one.

Suicides and sudden deaths in consequence of excessive drunkenness has been common: throughout the week. In fact, the list of casualties after Christmas is almost as severe as after a battle or a riot.


Over a decade later, there are more serious concerns with unemployment leading to considerable distress.

1888 Christmas ‘Cheer’ in London

The distress amongst the unemployed in London, is assuming a very acute form. Cases of an appalling description are of daily occurrence. Men and women are dying in the streets of sheer starvation. The men have been offered relief in the workhouses, but this they have refused, declaring that they will not submit to be treated as paupers, and that what they want is work at which they may be able to earn their living. Many are subsisting on garbage and refuse which they find in the gutters.


Things had improved in 1912 but the rather pessimistic reporter is definitely not looking on the bright side.

1912 – Christmas in London

Of all the detailed, dark, dismal, dreary, dingy, depressing places in which to spend Christmas, London is easily the worst in the world. This year London weather is at its worst, and Christmas is being ushered with semi-darkness, rain, fog, sleet, and flood. The atmosphere is not very cold, but it is miserably dark and dreary—the darkest Christmas for years—with lights burning all day long. Half the country districts are under water, and all hunting fixtures in the northern districts have been cancelled in consequence.

Most of the people who can afford it are fleeing from this land of gloom, and thousands have left for the Continent, and are still leaving. The boat trains from Charing Cross are running in triplicate, so great is the exodus. Most of the travellers are bound for Switzerland, Italy, and South of France.


The middle of the First World War dampened down the Christmas spirit, even to the extent of programmes in luxurious hotels being ‘modified’.

1916 – Christmas in London, quietest for years.

This has been the quietest Christmas in many years. The high prices for food in conjunction with the newspapers’ appeals for a simple Christmas, curtailed festivities. In response to an appeal not lo travel, the railway traffic was small, especially over long distances.

Many Christmas trains which were scheduled were not needed. Live programme in luxurious hotels were modified.


The middle of the Second World War was even worse with many shortages including rather strangely wedding rings.

1942  – Austerity Christmas in London

Britain’s fourth wartime Christmas will be an ‘Austerity-plus’ festival. Travelling is unpatriotic, turkeys and other poultry are unusually short In supply, and London school children are having only a seven-day break. Servicemen and servicewomen will have a working Christmas.

The Ministry of Food has announced that 400.000 turkeys had been Imported from Eire, but Britain has 12.000,000 homes, apart from a great demand from restaurants, which find It very difficult to get enough food of any sort to carry on. The vast Smlthfield Market seemed practically empty yesterday. Some of its shops had closed and others had notices. ‘Nothing for sale.’

One shop had 40 turkeys, but a salesman said those were al! for the Merchant Navy and they were not selling to anybody else.Another shop which in peacetime sold between 6000 and 7000 Christmas turkeys had barely 600 this year. and all had been booked up weeks ago.

Deliveries of toys to wholesalers have been late, and yesterday hundreds of small shop keepers besieged wholesalers for supplies. One queue outside wholesalers began forming at 6 a.m. and by 7.30. when the doors were opened an hour earlier than usual, it numbered over 1000.

Publicity regarding a shortage of wedding rings caused the Board of Trade suddenly to increase production from 10 to 50 per cent, during December and January, so hundreds of war brides will have their own instead of borrowed wedding rings.

After the Second World War, shortages continued and at the beginning of the 1950s, the menace of the Cold War was making people fearful of the future.

1950 Britons enjoyed an odd Christmas

Most Britons soberly agreed that about the best Christmas present they got this year was Ike Eisenhower. It seemed a pretty odd sort of present at a season of traditional peace and goodwill, but then it was an odd sort of Christmas.

In many ways it was the oddest Christmas Britain has had since the bombs stopped falling. In the weekend before Christmas I saw more drunks in the streets of London than I have seen at any time in the past five years.

They were happy enough drunks, or at least that’s how they looked. But some people thought they detected a note of hysteria — just as though people had made up their minds that anything might happen and they had better have one more big blowout.

An Englishman standing beside me and listening to the shouting and singing in crowded pubs, which were just not big enough to hold the celebrating Londoners, said, “It looks just like it did in wartime.”

When the hangover wore off Britons were gladder than ever about Ike Eisenhower. News of his appointment was the one event which seemed to spell some sort of security. Ike is admired-and trusted here and Britain is very glad that he is coming to Europe.

But nobody here is losing sight of the fact that Eisenhower’s army exists so far only on paper and everybody would be more ,relieved if they knew, where he is going to get his troops from. His appointment was the one bright spot in what was otherwise . Britain’s glummest postwar Christmas.

Ordinary people who don’t claim to know what goes on at the higher levels are convinced that if Europe lives in peace through 1951 it is going to be very lucky.They think that the Russians aren’t going to let the “build-up” in the West go on without kicking up some kind of fuss.


The dangers in 1968 were a little bit closer to home when a report indicated that people were not cooking their Christmas turkey properly and were poisoning their families.

1968 Poison

Dr Geoghegan is reported by AAP as saying that stuffing the turkey could lead to food poisoning in the family.

“It is virtually impossible to cook the interior of a large turkey without incinerating the outside if the bird is stuffed”, he was quoted as saying by the Daily Sketch.

If food poisoning germs are in the turkey — and they are more prevalent in poultry than many other meats — they could survive a roasting in the oven, he said.

Dr Geoghegan, of Chichester, Sussex, said in his annual report, “The size of the bird may prevent the high temperature necessary for sterilisation from ever being attained in the interior of the bird and is all the more so when the carcase is stuffed before roasting. The stuffing acts as an excellent insulation to the deeper parts of the car case during cooking and food poisoning organisms survive and cause trouble”.

He said there had been a spate of food poisoning incidents in England ; recently because of badly cooked poultry.

The late 1970s were a period of considerable industrial unrest and fears about terrorism  (seems strangely familiar).

 1978 Strikes, fog, fear . . .Otherwise London all well

It has been an off Christmas season in London. The streets were bright and the shops, with their inflated prices and new inviting Arabic signs, were frantically busy, but somehow it did not seem very merry.

More than 2,000 policemen on emergency duty were touring the fashionable West End in pairs for fear of Irish terrorists. Security guards checked all parcels and handbags at department store doors. All suspicious cars or vans were worked over by the bomb squads, and while nothing much happened, it created an atmosphere of uneasiness.

Meanwhile, the BBC had been on strike for a couple of days before Christmas. There was a shortage of petrol in some places for fear of a truckers’ strike. Fog closed the main London airport at the height of the Christmas rush — otherwise all was well.

Although the media and advertisers like to present a rather sanitised view of Christmas, it has often been a period of trouble and unrest.  However it is a period when we can look to the new year with a sense of hope.

It is within this sense of hope that we would like to wish the Season’s Greeting and a Happy New Year to all our readers. Thank you everyone who has read and contributed to the site over the year and we look forward to reporting on another fascinating year on the Isle of Dogs.


‘Peter Possum’ visits the Isle of Dogs in 1867


The Docks night scene. Gustave Dore 1872

In 1860’s  a British born writer Richard Rowe (Peter Possum) who had made his name writing for Australian newspapers and journals returned to Britain and began to write articles which were then sent back to Australia.  Previously I published his impressions of the Thames Tunnel, in this article for the Argosy magazine he turns his attentions on the Isle of Dogs.

But when I wandered through the docks, I had still time upon my hands. A sudden thought struck me – I would explore the Isle of Dogs. The name is a household word to all Cockneys – they have heard it played upon scores of times in punning pantomimes; but how many of them know anything of its local habitation beyond the glimpse that may be got of its fringe from a Gravesend or Margate boat? No one, except on occasion of a great ship-launch, would think of going to the Isle of Dogs for pleasure, and great ship-launches unfortunately do not take place there now.

The artisans who used to swarm to it for business from Poplar and East Greenwich frequent it now in sadly diminished floods. At its busiest time it was a terra incognita to the vast majority of Londoners; now it possesses in addition the painful interest of being comparatively deserted by its  flourishing denizens. I set out for a walk round it, although within earshot of  railway whistles and almost within eyeshot of St. Paul’s, with a prose-dashed feeling of the poetry that must affect a visitant of ruined cities buried in American forests.
On the right rose the dead wall of the West India Docks, with little black hut showing at regular intervals above, furnished with pulley-wheels, as if inhabited by marsh-hermits who so hauled up their supplies. I crossed white drawbridges ridged with high metal flanges to keep crossing waggons in the middle. On the left rolled the almost vacant reach of river; on the right masts rose above brick walls, looking as land-sprung as park-trees; and vessels and timber floated in lanky artificial lochs. I passed “Lloyd’s Proving Range,” a long lofty gallery of rusty corrugated iron, bristled with scolloped pinnacles; and paced the deserted streets of Cubitt Town.

I once heard a humorous Kentish rustic describing a part of Maidstone as a locality which the Creator had “made o’Saturday night, and so he left it unfinished.” I was forcibly reminded of that somewhat bold description whilst wandering through Cubitt Town. The houses are of the normal squat, flimsy, featureless class which finds favour with the “cheap builders” of London; but suddenly every pretence at pavement vanishes, the post of the “doctor’s” red lamp at the corner stands lonely as Eddystone lighthouse, and the street runs into marsh, on which horses, with burs in their manes, are fattening themselves for the knacker’s yard, mud-streaked little pigs are squeakingly complaining of the bites which stray mangy dogs persist in taking at their by no means too plumps behinds, and patriachally-bearded Billygoats, big-uddered Nannygoats, and frisky kids are nosing and vaulting amidst shards of yellow pottery.

In the distance tower truncated pyramids of red and yellow brick, with grey haze wreathing over them. Nearer at hand are wastes of hummocked land, laked with pools of stagnant, scummily-irised water, which the bigger small boys of the place have converted into artillery ranges; more diminutive brethren being the whimpering targets for their hot fire of oyster shells.gustave-dore-1872

Dockland – Gustave Dore 1872

The grey-stone church, the red and yellow brick schools, are almost the only wholesome-looking building in the town. Most of the houses look like decaying mushrooms. There is an appalling proportion both of private dwellings and of shops “To Let;” the lower windows of the former being roughly boarded up to exclude gratuitous tenants. Public-houses are plentiful, but the dinginess which previous thronging custom has brought upon them stands out with dismal prominence in their present desolation. Workmen who can get no work, unshorn and clad in dirty duck and greasy corduroy, lounge about in knots of three and four, drearily moping, still more drearily joking at to the probabilities of the passing stranger’s standing an eleemosynary pint. The puff of a steam-engine, the rattle of a hammer, are sounds as rare as welcome. Again and again the road is fringed with a long range of workshops, through the starred holes of whose broken windows no bustle can be seen, no clank of tools, no hum of voices comes. Broad, white-lettered black boards above their portals announce “These Desirable Premises to be Sold or Let on lease.”
Between two such establishments a narrow street runs down to a deserted pier. The green grass is fast covering the black clinkers with which it is paved. At the bottom a glimpse may be got of a deserted shipyard. It is a forest of bare poles. On the pebbly “hard” into which it slopes lies a dismasted black barge – her cracked, sprawling sideboard looking like the broken fin of a dead, stranded whale. That may be taken as the type of the shipyards of the Isle of Dogs at present. I saw only two vessels shored up for repairs; abnormal quiet reigns even in the ship-breaker’s yard, littered with sea-greened copper, fractured spars, sun-blistered planks, and noseless, armless figure-heads. Other trades, however, seem still to thrive in the Isle of Dogs and perfume its atmosphere with a strange medley of malodour. Were it not for the penetrating scent of abundant tar, the nose would collapse under the infliction of the horribly mingled stinks of rancid grease, bilge-water, and mysteriously anonymous “chemicals.” “Family Night Lights” have a great factory all to themselves in Millwall. As you follow the river’s curve, you pass all kinds of works – some of them so big that their buildings have to be linked on to one another with rhubarb-coloured bridges running above the roadway. Boeotian fatness broods in the air around this oil mill. The steam corn mill next to it is furred with flour in streaks like rain-furrowed whitewash. Above this wall peeps a chaos of blighted-pumpkin-like boilers and pipes carefully wrapping in filthy, shaggy swathing. Through the wall runs a hose, swelling like an angry snake as the stream which the turncock in mufti has just supplied from the plug outside rushes through it. Just inside that wall a lofty chimney-stalk springs up like a blasted Californian pine, seemingly quite cut off from the works to whose ill-humours it gives vent. The smoky, dumpy cones of a pottery come next, pitched higgledy-piggledy amongst ash-heaps, rain-pools, clay-piles and avalanches of smashed pipkins. The pottery cones are cracked, but they seem to be chuckling over the thought that if they tumble, they will not have so far to fall as their tall neighbours, some of which are also cracked, and others prophylactically hooped like barrels – a precaution which gives them the aspect of vastly-magnified bamboos. In the midst of the fuming chimney-stalks, rumbling wheels, and panting engines, is interposed the cool, quiet contrast of a stone-yard, with moist numbered blocks piled one upon another and arranged in avenues, like “Druidical remains.”
I have said that no one would dream of going to the Isle of Dogs for pleasure; but nevertheless, I found “villas” there; enclosed in smart palisades, skirted with grass-plats and fringed with little trees and shrubs. Apparently their builder soon repented of his enterprise, for one of the small number can only boast of a basement, and moulders a ready-made ruin above its shaggy lawn. Noble Greenwich Hospital opposite, backed by its wooded hill, looks pityingly across at the pretentious row that dares, perched on the margin of a marsh, to assume Cockney architectural airs in face of its time-mellowed domes and colonnades.
In spite of its frill of works, the Isle of Dogs still looks a marsh. Blind alleys between the works are blocked with river-wall: where little lanes open on the river, the island seems to have sprung a leak, and one expects the water to rush in. Mist hangs about the flat, creeping hither and thither like visible ague: the houses look as if they had caught cold through not changing their wet stockings. The one omnibus which has come to an irresolute stand-still in the miry main street of Millwall, “like one who hath been led astray,” seems to have wandered from some slug-haunted old yard in which superannuated “buses” are laid up in mildewed ordinary. The two policemen look equally blue-mouldy, and pine for the far-off beats in which more fortunate brethren behold cooks’ faces beaming like rising suns between area rails. The hobbydehoy roughs who loaf out amongst the puddles have something alligator-like in their moist lankiness. The cheap periodicals in the one or two little shops, which satisfy the island’s thirst for literature, appear damper than when they came fresh from the press a month ago. “Champagne Charley” and the “Three Jolly Dogs” droop along-side them in lugubriously limp coarse woodcuts, hydropathically cured of all their fastness. Jolly Dogs in the Isle of Dogs seem as much out of their element as Clown, Harlequin, and Pantaloon at a Methodist class-meeting.

The 1850s was a boom time for the Isle of Dogs, the building of Brunel’s Great Eastern and other shipbuilding  on  the Island had attracted workers from all over the United Kingdom. However by 1866 there was a financial crash that devastated the shipyards which caused great distress among thousands of workers. This distress continued unabated for the next three years putting considerable strain on local authorities and charities to provide relief. Although Peter Possum wrote whimsical pieces, the article does give some illustration of the state of the Island at the time.

Super Yacht Force India in West India Dock


Rather belatedly ( the yacht arrived at the weekend ), I managed to take a closer look at the latest Super yacht in West India Dock. The Force India Super yacht was built by Overmarine in Italy in 2007. 


The 49.9 metre ( 163 feet ) yacht can accommodate 10 guests in a one master suite, one VIP, two doubles and one twin, all located on the lower deck.


The yacht has the latest technological equipment and the usual array of water toys including jetskis, seabobs and snorkelling gear too.


There are reports that the yacht is available for charter or for sale for around 13 million pounds.


But as usual in the secretive world of super yachts it is difficult to find out a lot of information. The Force India joins the Ilona in the West India Dock which has been berthed there since August.

Seal and Porpoise Watching around the Isle of Dogs Revisited


One of the most remarkable stories of the last 60 years in London is the way the River Thames has recovered from being considered ‘biologically’ dead in 1950s to now being home to hundreds of species of fish and animals.

The Thames was declared biologically ‘dead’ by the Natural History Museum in the 50s  when its waters were considered devoid of oxygen and unable to sustain life. After the introduction of tough legislation in the late 20th century, the river has made such a comeback that it is estimated that 400 invertebrates and 125 species of fish, have returned to the murky waters.


One of the delights of this turnaround is that we are seeing seals, dolphins, porpoises and the occasional whale further up the river.  Although the waters around the Isle of Dogs is considered a bit of a hot spot for sightings, it is more likely that you will see a seal and often you tend to suspect it might be Sammy the permanent resident at Billingsgate Market.

Last week, I was contacted by Andrew Parnell who provided some evidence of a more spectacular sighting. Andrew is a City of London guide who leads walks around the Island, one of the walks entitled Treasure Island: The Isle of Dogs’ Hidden Gems reveals some of the lesser known architectural gems of the Isle of Dogs.


One a recent walk, Andrew was near Livingstone Place  when he and his group came across some marine ‘gems’ when he spotted a number of porpoises in the river. Andrew took a brief video on his phone and has kindly given permission for me to use some photographs taken from the footage.  


In the video is at least three different porpoises which have been identified as harbour porpoises but there may have been more.


It really is a remarkable sight to see porpoises this far up the river moving towards the centre of London. However it is unlikely they were ‘sightseeing’, quite often marine mammals follow their food for long distances.

On my frequent walks around the Island, I will looking at the river with renewed interest, hoping to spot more of our marine visitors.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his sighting and if you are interested in joining his walk around the Isle of Dogs, visit his website here