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Life on the Isle of Dogs 1981 – 88 by Chris Hirst (Part One)


Bonfire Night 1984 (photo Chris Hirst )

Recently, I was chatting with photographer Mike Seaborne who is well known for the photographs he took of the Island in the 1980s. We both said there was for various reasons, very few photographs of the Island in this important period survived when the docks had closed and redevelopment had not really began. This is why, I was delighted when Chris Hirst got in touch with some memories of his time on the Island in the 1980s and produced a number of fascinating photographs. Both give plenty of insights into a place which was lamenting the loss of the docks and was looking forward to an uncertain future. Chris takes up the story which I will publish in two parts. 

My wife and I moved to the Island in the summer of 1981. Tower Hamlets were offering “hard to let” council housing to students, and friends of ours had a 3-bedroom flat in Skeggs House on Glengall Grove and wanted someone to share it. Cheap rent was the only thing Skeggs House had going for it!

The first picture shows the front of Skeggs House in 1981. Note there were no trees on Glengall Grove at that time. The old red telephone boxes are still there but would soon be replaced. The two people are on the balcony of our flat (number 7).


Skeggs House ( photo Chris Hirst )

Conditions in the flat were fairly primitive. The only heat source was a gas fire in the living room. The bedrooms were extremely cold in the winter (single-digit temperatures during a cold spell). The leaky windows let in all the street noise. The water heater was unreliable and exploded twice (once taking weeks to be repaired). The lifts never worked of course, but it was only two flights of stairs. 

The following picture was taken from the other side of Skeggs House. It all looks very much the same today!


  Skeggs Rear 1981. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Public transport on the Island was pretty much limited to the 277 bus, but we bicycled almost everywhere and only used the bus occasionally. At the time the 277 route ended at the south side of the Blue Bridge and the bus turned around on that little loop of Manchester Road. So it didn’t affect the bus if the bridge was up, as it was in this 1982 picture.


Blue Bridge Open 1982. ( photo Chris Hirst )

The next three pictures were all taken from or close to the Blue Bridge in 1982. The view towards South Dock was pretty barren, and nothing like it is today. I assume the three cranes near the middle of the picture are the same ones that now sit on the opposite side of the dock entrance.


Dock from Blue Bridge 1982. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Leslie’s Cafe was demolished when Preston’s Road was straightened. We never went inside, but cycled past that spot daily.


 Leslie’s Cafe 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

The dock entrance had to be dredged periodically, and that required the bridge to be raised. The next shot was probably taken on the same day as the one above showing the bridge open.


Dredging 1982, ( photo Chris Hirst )

This was before the Asda was built so we did a lot of our shopping off the Island, although Castalia Square was useful for many things (including the launderette). In the following 1982 picture note the old red telephone boxes, which are gone in Mike Seaborne’s 1984 pictures.


 Castalia Square 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

 The Glass Bridge was still standing when we first moved there, although I think it was already closed and soon afterwards it was demolished. This picture was taken from the balcony of 7 Skeggs House in 1982.


Glass Bridge 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

 Roffey and Cubitt Houses were also still there, although no longer occupied by 1982.


 Roffey House 1982 ( photo Chris Hirst )

Things started to improve on the Island with the Asda opening in 1983, the Enterprise Zone and the red brick road with the new D1 bus, and the announcement of the DLR in 1984.

On November 5th 1984 there was a spectacular bonfire between Skeggs and Thorne Houses. This picture was taken from the balcony at the rear of Skeggs House.


  Bonfire Night 1984. ( photo Chris Hirst )

Many thanks to Chris for his contribution and the use of his photographs.

Remembrance Art Trail at Canary Wharf – 1st to 13th November 2016


The Remembrance Art Trail at Canary Wharf consists of seven art installations created by international award-winning artist Mark Humphrey, the trail was created in association with the Royal British Legion and constructed with the help of the Corps of Royal Engineers. It consists of seven art installations, each piece has a different focus within the wider theme of military experience, aiming to encourage personal reflection and contemplation.

London based artist Mark Humphrey is well known for public art and has created several large scale artworks for the Armed Forces and military charities. All of the pieces are being created here in the UK, using material salvaged from military sources and using some military manufacturing techniques.


Lost Armies in Jubilee Park – a work about remembering the fallen and their sacrifices made, for all countries that fought for the British Armed Forces dedicated to The Not Forgotten Association.

Boots on the Ground in Westferry Circus – a work about the spirit and soul of the British Armed Forces dedicated to Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company.


ANA (Army, Navy & Airforce) Triptych in Jubilee Plaza – a work about abstract poppy forms explored within military transport parts of the British Armed Forces dedicated to Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, RAF Benevolent Fund & ABF The Soldiers’ Charity.


Fallen Soldier in Reuters Plaza – a work about remembering our servicemen and women during all conflicts dedicated The Royal British Legion.


Point of Everyman’s Land in Jubilee Place Lower Mall level -2 – a work about war in time and space, moments of battle, peace and the point of Remembrance dedicated to The Poppy Factory.


Lost Soldiers in Adams Plaza – a work about healing, remembering and forgiveness dedicated to Stoll.


Brothers in Arms in Cabot Place – a work about human sacrifice, comradeship and remembrance for all military conflicts dedicated to Combat Stress.

The trail is free to visit, open daily and there will be a series of free guided tours, if you want to walk around the trail yourself, you can download our Remembrance Art Trail map here.

In the period up to Remembrance Sunday, the artworks are a reminder of the human cost of war and how a number of forces related charities provide ongoing support to  former forces personnel and their families.

The charities features are The Royal British Legion, RAF Benevolent Fund, Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, ABF The Soldiers Charity, The Not Forgotten Association, Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company, The Poppy Factory, Stoll and Combat Stress.

On Armistice Day, Canary Wharf will hold a Two Minute Silence at 11am at the art installations and the  following locations where buglers will be playing the Last Post and Reveille to mark the occasion:  Westferry Circus, Cabot Square, Jubilee Park, Canada Square Park, Jubilee Place Mall, Canada Place Mall and Reuters Plaza.



Superyacht Lady S in West India Dock


The Ilona superyacht has been berthed in West India Dock since August and today she is joined by the superyacht “Lady S”. Estimated to have cost 70 million dollars, the 225-foot long vessel is owned by Daniel Snyder, an American billionaire best known as the owner of the Washington Redskins American football team. The Washington Redskins play in London at the end of October which may be the purpose for the visit.


Interestingly, the Kismet superyacht owned by Shahid Khan owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars was berthed in the West India Dock recently.


The yacht was built by famous Dutch company Amels in 2006 as Lady Anne P.B. before being sold  to Mr Snyder who renamed her “Lady S.”


The 224.74ft /68.5m yacht ‘Lady S’ was designed by Walter Franchini and refitted in 2013 , she can provide accommodation for up to 12 guests in 7 rooms, including a master suite, 1 VIP stateroom, 3 double cabins and can carrying up to 19 crew on board.


Like many of the large luxury yachts, it has all the latest amenities including Gym, Air Conditioning, Lift,  Deck Jacuzzi and Stabilizers.

It is not known how long the yacht will be in West India Dock or its destination after it leaves.

The Adventures of Young Alfred Hitchcock


In a previous post about Alfred Hitchcock, I wrote about his formative years when he moved to Limehouse.

The Hitchcock’s moved from Leytonstone to 175 Salmon Lane in Limehouse and opened a shop selling fresh fish, before Alfred’s father purchased 130 Salmon Lane and opened it as a fish and chip shop.

One of the problems of looking at Hitchcock’s childhood is to separate fact and fiction because later in life Hitchcock would tell stories about his childhood which were often fanciful and exaggerated.

This blurring of fact and fiction about Hitchcock’s life has fascinated many writers, but very few have used Hitchcock’s early life to write fiction. One writer who has decided to write about the young Alfred Hitchcock is Jude Cowan Montague with her soon to be realised Young Hitch series.


Jude has considerable knowledge of the Salmon Lane area after living there in the 1980s. As Jude relates the area was very different in that time.

When I lived nearby in the late 1980s I squatted in an old council block which has now been demolished, so I have my own sentimental connection with times gone by. It was quite run down in those days, but the development of the docks on the Isle of Dogs was already in progress.


Recently Jude revisited the area to get inspiration for the new books and understanding that Limehouse has always been an interesting mix of old and new. Although the Young Hitch series are a work of fiction they do use real-life history, newspapers and first-hand accounts for historical accuracy.


Hitchcock was famous for observing life and trying to found out what made people tick, there is no doubt that Hitchcock would have been have been aware of an East End around him that was in turmoil. Industrial strikes, Women’s suffrage , anarchism and general unrest  were commonplace, if this was not enough the start of the First World War saw Zeppelin bombing raids.

Hitchcock was also fascinated with murders, he was fascinated by Jack the Ripper and the cases of Dr Crippen and Adelaide Bartlett. Hitchcock’s formative years were probably vital for developing his famous macabre sense of humour.

Jude taps into Hitchcock’s unique take on the world around him in the Young Hitch books which the following excerpt illustrates 

Sitting in the red plush seats of the Picture Palace, Alfred Hitchcock, eleven years old and eager to grow up, shook as a snake of fear rose from his toes, wriggled through his socks and slid up his sweaty legs.

On the wide screen in front the hero squeezed through a hole and made off for the horizon. He looked back and laughing, in what Alf thought was in a rather superior manner. There was a smug and distasteful manner revealed by the close-up.

The bereft villain shook his fist, silhouetted against the sky. His victim had got away.

‘Curses!’ Alf mouthed, twirling an invisible moustache. 

Baron von Bingsten was not acting in his best interests by drawing attention with his gyrating gurning gymnastics. But then Alf had never met a real baron. Perhaps all nobs, as his father called them, had over-dramatic movements. But he doubted it. He couldn’t test his theory. Grocers’ sons didn’t have the opportunity to mingle with the nobility. If only his Da had a title. Lord Leytonstone? Could be? It seemed you had to be an aristocrat to have a real adventure, if you went by the stories he read.

If his father really thought about Alf’s needs, and wanted to give him all the best advantages in life, he would get himself a title. But despite the lip-service, parents did not think of their children enough. His Da was always thinking of his business.  That was why he had dragged Alf and the Hitchcocks from a perfectly good house in Leytonstone to a crummy place like Limehouse.

Alf felt a tear spring to his eye as he dwelt on this injustice. Through the rosy mists of memory he thought of the beloved house he had left behind. There were roses wreathed around a porch and a mother waiting at the garden gate in a checked apron, greeting him with a warm smile.

Or was that the cottage in ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’, on last week? It didn’t really matter. The point was the same.

He licked a salty tear away, smiling to himself and settling down for the next picture wishing he had some more peanuts.

He idly wondered if he had enough for an ice-cream, but he did not have to pull out the lining to know his pockets were empty apart from the sticky caramel sweet wrappers. And a dead pigeon’s wing.

He was out of luck and out of pennies. Soon it would be time to go home. Back to the real world.

Update : Jude’s first book in the series ‘Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames’ was published on 3rd January 2017 on the anniversary of the Siege of Sidney Street.

If you would like to find out more about the Young Hitch series of books, visit Jude’s blog here

A Promise between Friends by Carol Rivers


Regular readers will know that I am always keen to find books with a link to the Island. Very few writers have written about the Island in a series of books, the great exception is bestselling author Carol Rivers who has written a number of books which generally feature characters on the Island.

Carol’s gritty and heart-warming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and appear regularly in many bestseller charts and Carol has a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

I was delighted to receive a copy of Carol’s latest book, A Promise between Friends which takes place in the early 1950s and follows the adventures of the ambitious, 19-year-old Ruby Payne and her lifelong friend Kath Rigler. Ruby and Kath both suffer from issues that bring unhappy memories but are looking to start an exciting new independent life by moving into a new flat together.

London in the early 1950s was a city in transition, still suffering from shortages and bomb damage whilst trying to forge a new future. In the pursuit of the good things in life, some people were willing to take chances and the book captures the period when shady deals and false promises led many people into trouble. Ruby desperate to rise above her humble beginnings finds out that there is always a price to pay.


Carol Rivers

What really sets Carol’s book apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who are faced with situations familiar to many of us, in overcoming these problems they often seek help from their extended families who are considered of great importance. However, Carol’s books acknowledge that even though extended families were a great source of support, sometimes those loyalties were tested and could lead to conflict. This is another characteristic of Carol’s books, she often displays some of negative aspects of London life when characters go off the rails.

But for all the pain and conflict, Carol pays tribute to the strong characters, often women who manage to keep going through adversity. Ruby and Kath are two such characters who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships.

A Promise between Friends is the latest book from a writer who still takes a close interest of events on the Island and continues to be inspired by this small piece of East London.

If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, it is available in many formats at Simon and Schuster, you can visit their website here

A Visit to the Queen’s House in Greenwich


Like many people who live on the Island, I will occasionally take the short ride to Greenwich or walk through the foot tunnel. Greenwich is a favourite with locals and visitors who come to admire its many delights.

In the numerous times, visiting Greenwich I have never visited the Queen’s House located near the National Maritime Museum. Therefore I was delighted to be invited to a preview of the newly restored Queen’s House before it opens to the public on October 11th.


The House’s closure has given the Royal Museums Greenwich the opportunity to refurbish galleries, including the King’s Presence Chamber and the Tulip Stairs, as well as introducing new displays and colour schemes, bespoke lighting and new interpretation. The window-glazing and flooring of the Grade I listed building has also been upgraded.


The Queen’s House has a remarkable history and is considered one of the most important buildings architecturally in the country.  The famous architect Inigo Jones was commissioned to design the building in 1616 by King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark , although she never saw Inigo Jones’s Classical design completed because she died in 1619 when only the first floor had been built. In 1629, James’s son Charles I gave Greenwich to his wife Henrietta Maria and work on the Queen’s House resumed to be finally completed around 1636. The house is considered one of the first fully Classical buildings in England and marked a distinct break from the traditional, red-brick Tudor style of building.


The Civil War  meant that Henrietta Maria had little time in the house before she went into exile, her husband was executed and his property seized by the state, although she did eventually return after the restoration in 1660. The house was then used by members of the royal family and for other purposes until 1805, when George III granted the Queen’s House to a charity for the orphans of seamen, called the Royal Naval Asylum. This remained until 1933, when the charity moved to Suffolk. It was taken over by the National Maritime Museum in 1934.


To celebrate its 400th anniversary in 2016, the Queen’s House has been refurbished to celebrate its Royal connections and the National Maritime Museum’s outstanding art collection.


Turner Prize winner Richard Wright has created a new artwork for the ceiling of the Great Hall which is inspired by the remarkable Tulip Stairs.


Visitors to the re-opened house will also be able to see Orazio Gentileschi’s Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife displayed in this iconic building for the first time since 1650. The painting, which is part of the Royal Collection, was one of a sequence commissioned for the Queen’s House by King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.


The King’s Presence Chamber and Queen’s Presence Chamber have been used to house paintings illustrating the kings, queens, consorts and courtiers associated with the House and Greenwich during this period.This helps to bring the history of the Queen’s House to life and illustrates the connection with the Tudor Placentia Palace that once stood near the site.

Walking around the remarkable house provides plenty of evidence of how Greenwich was at the centre of Royal life for centuries and how little remains to remind us of its Royal connections.


Standing on the balcony on the first floor gives you a wonderful view of Greenwich Park but when you walk outside you realise why so many people fail to visit the house, despite the grand entrances there are no large doors, entry is via the colonnade and it is easy to believe that the house is part of the larger complex not a standalone house.


There is another interesting element that is relevant to Islanders, Queen Mary stipulated that no building should block the view to the river, so when Christopher Wren designed the Naval College he left a gap in the building. When viewing from Island Gardens, the Queen’s House is nicely framed by the Naval College and offers a wonderful view of Greenwich Park behind.


I would highly recommend a visit to the Queen’s House to enjoy some of the wonderful features and the art collections which help you to understand the building’s history, and its considerable significance.

The Queen’s House is Free Admission

HMS Kent in West India Dock – 5th October 2016


Last afternoon saw the arrival of HMS Kent which is one of the Type 23 frigates within the Royal Navy. This is the second visit to the dock in 2016, the HMS Kent last visited in May when she was preparing to make making her way to Scotland take part in the Battle of Jutland centenary commemorations, in which she  played a central role.


The ship was built by BAE Systems on the Clyde and was launched in 1998 by Princess Alexandra of Kent. The ship has a length of 133 m (436 ft 4 in), beam of 16.1 m (52 ft 10 in) and can carry a crew of up to 205.



HMS Kent is the twelfth ship that has had this name in the Royal Navy and has travelled the world since her launch in a number of deployments. The ship has been involved in a number of anti-piracy and anti-drug missions in recent years including actions against smugglers, pirates and terrorists.

The purpose of the visit is not known at this time or how long the ship will be berthed in West India Dock.


STS Lord Nelson in West India Dock – October 2016


After all the recent activity in West India Dock recently it is nice to welcome a regular visitor to the dock with the arrival of STS Lord Nelson which last visited in August. 

The Lord Nelson was the first tall ship that was purpose-built with the aim of integrating disabled with able-bodied people. The ship was the fulfilment of the vision of JST’s founder, Christopher Rudd who believed that physically disabled people should be able to sail alongside able-bodied people as part of the crew. The charity raised the money to build the ship aided by a grant from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal which led to the charity to being called the Jubilee Sailing Trust.


The Lord Nelson sailed on her maiden voyage in 1986, Since that voyage, the STS Lord Nelson has sailed 461,943 Nautical Miles and taken nearly 29,000 people to sea. Of these, 10,500 people were physically disabled and more than 3,500 were wheelchair users.


One of the most remarkable aspects of the ship is that Lord Nelson’s has many facilities for disabled crew including flat wide decks, powered lifts, speaking compass, Braille signage and bright track radar for visually impaired crew members. An induction loop and vibrating alarms have been installed for hearing impaired crew members. There are also special cabins, toilets and shower facilities for disabled crew.


However, the whole purpose of these facilities is to enable the disabled crew to work side by side with the able-bodied crew, there is no room for passengers, everyone has duties to perform.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Lord Nelson undertook its greatest challenge by completing a voyage around the world visiting 7 continents and 30 countries. Whilst in Australia and New Zealand she raced in tall ships races and also carried out an Antarctic Expedition.

The Lord Nelson and her sister ship, the Tenacious  are regular visitors to West India Dock and both ships are a wonderful reminder of what can be achieved by fulfilling a vision of providing opportunities to people with a wide range of abilities.

French Navy Ship Laplace in West India Dock


An unusual visitor to West India Dock is the Laplace which is a hydrographic survey ship of the French Navy and one of their Lapérouse-class survey ships.


The ship was launched in 1988 and went into service in 1989. The ship is 59 m (193 ft 7 in) long and has a beam of 10.9 m (35 ft 9 in). The crew consists of 3 officers,10 non-commissioned officers,18 enlisted personnel and 11 hydrographers.


Earlier this year, after the crash of EgyptAir Flight 804, Laplace was dispatched to search for the black boxes of the aircraft. She departed her base of Porto-Vecchio, in Corsica in May and in June detected a signal from one of the black box recorders.


It is not known how long the ship will be in dock, but a visit from an hydrographic survey ship is quite rare.

The PS Waverley at Tower Bridge


Regular readers will know that one of my favourite walks on a Sunday morning is from the Isle of Dogs to the Tower of London.  Once you leave Canary Wharf behind, you enter the old docklands walking along Narrow Street in Limehouse to Shadwell Basin and then passed by Tobacco Dock to Wapping.


Finally you can walk around St Katherine’s Dock where you will often see the Gloriana and Havengore moored before finally arriving at the Tower. Quite often I will cross Tower Bridge to explore the south side of the river, this week my progress was halted by the raising of the bascules to allow a ship pass through. Although I have seen the bridge raised many times, I have never been on the bridge when it has happened. Therefore I joined the excited throng of people looking over the bridge to see what ship was coming underneath.


To my great surprise, it was the PS Waverley being pulled by the tug General VIII. The PS Waverley is the last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world and since 2003 Waverley has been listed in the National Historic Fleet by National Historic Ships UK as “a vessel of pre-eminent national importance”.  


Built in 1946, she used to sail from Craigendoran on the Firth of Clyde to Arrochar on Loch Long until 1973. She was then restored and now operates passenger excursions around the British coast.


She is a regular visitor to the Thames and is one of the great sights of the river chugging up and down with lots of passengers.


Unfortunately there was little chugging this time as the PS Waverley was pulled through the bridge and off to be repaired.