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Yearly Archives: 2019

West India Dock Visitors Review 2019

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. No doubt we may have missed one or two ships but we have certainly had quite a number of fascinating visitors.

The development surrounding West India Dock and Canary Wharf seems to have had a considerable effect on the numbers visiting the dock. It has been generally a very quiet year for visitors in the dock compared with previous years.

Some old Tall Ships favourites returned with Tenacious, other tall ships included Marienborgh, ARA Libertad, Gulden Leeuw and Cuauhtémoc.

Superyachts included Reef Chief, Kismet, Bellami.com, Ocean Dreamwalker III and Bristolian.

Royal Navy ships included HMS Westminster and HMS Enterprise.

Dutch training ships Sittard and Rigel were unusual visitors.

Marine exploration was a bit of a theme this year with the arrival of DSSV Pressure Drop, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III and MV Esperanza.

The Marienborgh yacht seems to be permanently in the dock and Tenacious has been berthed for several weeks. The Massey Shaw, The Portwey and the Lord Amory which are permanently moored in the dock provide year round interest.

With all the development, it is unlikely that in the foreseeable future that numbers visiting will pick up quickly but we will keeping our eye on the many different ships that circle around the Isle of Dogs.

This year we spotted on the Thames, Dutch Tall Ship Stad Amsterdam, Polish Tall Ship Dar Mlodziezy, cruise liners Silver Spirit and Le Champlain.

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

Dunbar Wharf in the 1920s by Barry Ashworth and Michael Murnoir

Credit – Barry Ashworth

Recently, I mentioned Barry Ashworth and his long career at Dunbar Wharf, when he first started work at the wharf in the 1960s he came across a number of documents and photographs from Dunbar Wharf’s previous owner, Francis Vernon Smythe.

I am publishing a couple of these remarkable photographs of Dunbar Wharf in the 1920s, I have taken a couple of pictures recently in roughly the same place and was amazed that the facade of Dunbar had changed very little in the pass 90 or so years.

Credit – Barry Ashworth

In the photo the coastal schooner is the Plymouth registered ‘Alfred’ offloading alongside Open Wharf. Michael Murnoir in conversation with Barry Ashworth guessed it had offloaded the pile of staves which can be seen on the wagon. Vessels such as schooners could settle in the mud without damage because they were shoal draft or very shallow keeled.

Credit – Barry Ashworth

The photo is posed as you can see from the group standing on the wharf (Smythe with a very dapper boater) and the workmen in the lofts. Both Michael and Barry guessed the photograph was taken in the 1920s and the oak staves came from Germany and Spain mainly, but also from America, and the schooners cargo was a transhipment. Staves were transported a short distance to the cooperage on Ropemakers Fields which had a frontage to Narrow Street right opposite Duke Shore Wharf and ran through to Ropemakers Fields.

In the background on the left looms the much larger Barley Mow Brewery building, since demolished. It is unlikely it would have backloaded beer or barrels because the railways carried most of beer and there were plenty of local brewers. Oak barrels which left Limehouse full of beer, port and sherry could return to the Port of London from all over the globe refilled with juices, preserved vegetables in brine, rum or molasses.

Many of the original warehouse doors and fittings are still there, although the buildings are now used for residential use.

Credit – Barry Ashworth

Both Barry and Michael believe this is Dunbar Wharf between 1920-30. The guy in the light grey suit, legs apart is Cyril Legge, Wharf Superintendent until at least 1970. His father was before him.

Credit – Barry Ashworth

The guy in the gabardine raincoat is Francis Vernon Smythe, owner of Dunbar Wharf.

Once again the original layout of the wharf are still recognisable with still the same doors and fittings.

Creeks: Sailing barges packed into Limekiln or Limehouse Creek in October, 1930 by Albert Gravely Linney ( Museum of London )

I have also managed to find a picture of Dunbar Wharf from roughly the same period by well known Thames photographer Albert Gravely Linney.

Many thanks to Barry for permission to publish the photographs and to Michael and Barry for the information about one of the most interesting parts of modern Limehouse.

May I wish the readers of Isle of Dogs Life, A Merry Christmas  and a prosperous New Year.


Frost Fair Festival at Museum of London Docklands from 21 to 22 December 2019

A Frost Fair on the Thames at Temple Stair 1864 (c) Museum of London

A two day family festival at the Museum of London Docklands is a reminder of an unusual London tradition that took place on the frozen surface of the Thames.  London’s frost fairs took place for over two centuries when Londoners would descend on the frozen River Thames to build markets, play games and sell all manner of food and drink.

A View of Frost Fair on the River Thames 1814 (c) Museum of London

It was only rarely that the conditions would allow these carnivals to happen, between 1564 and 1814 there were around seven frost fairs in total but the festival of 1814 would be the last and one of the grandest. The construction of the new London Bridge in 1831, and development of the river and embankment during the Victorian era bought an end to this tradition.

Frost Fair festival (c) Museum of London

The tradition may have died but the memories of these festivals are still alive and the Museum of London Docklands hopes to create some of the excitement with its free family festival with the Telegraph Community choir and Newham Super Choir performing a number of festive songs.

Frost Fair festival (c) Museum of London

Visitors will also be able to enjoy talks, an Under 5s festive music session or try their hand at a range of arts and crafts. From making a pop-up frost fair card and a paper yule wreath, to hand puppet crafting and snow globe making, this is a festive experience for all the family.

Frost Fair festival (c) Museum of London

So if you want to celebrate a long gone London tradition and entertain the children, why not make your way to the Museum of London Docklands on the weekend before Christmas.

Frost Fair festival
Museum of London Docklands
Saturday 21 & Sunday 22 December 2019

Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I at the Queen’s House in Greenwich from 13 February 2020 until 31 August 2020

The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, circa 1588 © National Maritime Museum, London

Something to look forward to in the new year is the Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I exhibition at the Queen’s House in Greenwich (13 February 2020 until 31 August 2020). The exhibition presents the three surviving versions of the iconic Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I and it will be the first time the paintings have been displayed together in their 430-year history.

Considered, one of the most iconic images in British history, the Armada Portrait commemorates the most famous conflict in Elizabeth’s reign, the Spanish Armada’s failed attempt to invade England in 1588. Royal Museums Greenwich will showcase its own version of the Armada Portrait alongside the two other surviving versions, from the collections of Woburn Abbey and the National Portrait Gallery.

The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.  From the Woburn Abbey Collection

Athough the artists of the paintings is unknown it is believed that three versions of the Armada Portrait were painted shortly after the event, circa 1588. The three portraits united at the Queen’s House are the only contemporary versions in existence and the only three featuring seascapes that depict episodes from the Spanish Armada in the background.

The portraits will be displayed in the Queen’s House, the 17th century house, designed by Inigo Jones which is part of the original Greenwich Palace complex, which was a centre for the Tudor dynasty and the birthplace of Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown English artist, circa 1588 © National Portrait Gallery, London

In all three versions of the iconic portrait, the dominating figure of the Queen in a rich gold-embroidered and jewelled dress, behind her are two seascapes, depicting different episodes in the Spanish Armada. The portraits were used to present a public image of Elizabeth I, presenting her as a powerful, authoritative and majestic figure.

The exhibition will be a rare opportunity to see iconic portraits of Elizabeth I in a location that will be forever be associated with the Tudor world.

Faces of a Queen: The Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I will be open from 13 February – 31 August 2020 at the Queen’s House in Greenwich and is free to visit.

Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III in West India Dock

On a cold grey day, we welcome the arrival of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior III into West India Dock. Rainbow Warrior III is a purpose-built motor-assisted sailing yacht owned and operated by Greenpeace and is used for environmental protests and scientific excursions.

The vessel is the first Rainbow Warrior that is not converted from another vessel. Her hull was constructed in Poland and she was built in Germany and launched in 2011, to provide state-of-the-art facilities including advanced telecommunication equipment, specialised scientific equipment and a helicopter landing pad. The ship was designed to be one of the “greenest” ships afloat using primarily wind power, with a 55 m mast system which carries 1255 sq meters of sail and incorporates green marine technology.

Rainbow Warrior III was custom built for Greenpeace International at a cost of $32m (€23m) with funds raised from about three million sponsors. The ship has the capacity to carry and launch inflatable boats in tough weather conditions.

Rainbow Warrior III is the third Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior I was a converted trawler which was sunk by the French intelligence service while in harbour in New Zealand in the 1985, Rainbow Warrior II completed two decades of campaigning across the world before it was found unfeasible to upgrade to modern specifications.

Rainbow Warrior III was designed by naval architects Gerard Dijkstra & Partners in Amsterdam with superstructure made of aluminium while the hull is made from steel. The ship’s mast has A-frame masts for semi-automatic sails.

Rainbow Warrior III is not the only Greenpeace ship to visit West India Dock in recent years, MV Arctic Sunrise visited in 2013 and MV Esperanza in 2019

Book Review : Christmas Child by Carol Rivers


Regular readers will know that I often feature books by best-selling author Carol Rivers who has written a series of books about the Isle of Dogs. Carol’s gritty and heartwarming 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 have appeared regularly in many bestseller charts and have a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.

Recently, I was delighted to receive her latest book entitled Christmas Child which is based in Victorian London and follows the exploits of Ettie O’Reilly, who grows up in an orphanage in Poplar.

The book begins on Christmas Day 1880 in Poplar when a sick unmarried mother leaves her new born baby at the Sisters of Clemency Convent, next we move forward thirteen years and that baby is now thirteen year old Ettie O’Reilly whose protected life in the orphanage is coming to an abrupt end with the closing of the institution. The nuns had been her only family and she had enjoyed helping the nuns and helping the younger orphans helping them with their reading and writing.

When Michael, an East End street urchin arrived, Ettie tries to help him with his reading and writing, but he is difficult and has spent his whole life looking out for himself. Eventually, Michael and Ettie become good friends, and when Michael declares Ettie to be his girl, she is not unhappy.

When the Roman Catholic church decides to close the orphanage, Ettie is found a place as a maid to Lucas and Clara Benjamin, who own a smoking lounge in Soho. Michael decides to go back to life on the streets and Ettie starts her new life as a maid to the Benjamin’s.

Ettie finds that that life outside the orphanage is a challenge in more ways than one and good fortune is often followed by bad fortune. The twists and turns of Ettie’s life during next few years are fraught with danger, poverty and near death, but she is blessed in finding some true friends who seek to protect her from her mother’s fate. After being exposed to the dark side of the city, will she ever find Michael and have true happiness?

What sets Carol’s books apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who represent some of the best and worst of human qualities. Carol’s books pays tribute to strong characters, often women like Ettie who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships. Carol also manages to realistically portray a complex Victorian London full of great wealth and terrible poverty.

Although this fascinating and enjoyable book represents a move away from the East End family dramas, it still has a strong sense of humanity which Carol suggests can be found even in the worst environments.

I am sure that Christmas Child will be just as successful as Carol’s other books and If you would like to read buy a copy of the book, it is available here.

Carol lives in Dorset but still follows closely events on the Island and is a long time supporter of Isle of Dogs Life. If you would like to find out more about the book or other books written by Carol Rivers. Please visit her website here

Remembering the Port of London Authority Police Force

Copyright: Museum of London- PLA collection

Looking at the now famous photograph of policeman jumping into West India Dock was a reminder to write a piece about the little known Port of London Police who mostly disappeared when the London docks closed down.

Security was always an important aspect of the docks since the West India Docks opened in the early 19th century, however in the early days they did not have one police force for all the docks but rather the docks security had previously been run by five separate private companies London and St Katharines, Surrey Commercial, India and Millwall, the Royals (the Royal Albert Dock, the Royal Victoria Dock and the King George V Dock) and Tilbury, each with its own private police force.

All that changed in 1908, when the newly formed Port of London Authority (PLA) created the Port of London Authority Police Force. This police force were very specialised as a newspaper report of 1949 explains.

Port of London Police Are Specialists 1949

The sea routes from the world’s chief markets converge upon the Port of London, that gieat centre of commerce which stretches 26 miles from Tilbury to Tower Bridge and beyond. The ships of all nations, loaded with the produce of every land, nose their way through the swirling grey waters of the Thames and find their berths in one of the five groups of docks to the accompaniment of a melancholy symphony of sirens.

If you had business with one of these ships, wherever you entered the docks you would find at the gate at least” one policeman silhouetted against a background of rumbling derricks, mammoth warehouses, speeding lorries, hissing railway engines and moored vessels of every type and size.

As you approached you might well consider him to be just another London policeman going about his duty, scrutinising the passes of every vehicle leaving the docks, checking the load with an expert glance, and at the same time keeping a vigilant eye on the heterogeneous throng of stevedores, labourers, drivers, seamen,officials,lightermen, engineers, members of the forces and others who pass in an endless stream,in and out of the Port of London docks. But this constable, whose primary concern while on duty at the gate is the protection of property, is not a member of London’s Metropolitan Police Force, although his uniform is similar. He wears the badge of the Port of London Authority’s own police force.

It is one of the most efficient police forces in the world. During 1947 goods of all descriptions valued at hundreds of millions pounds passed through the port, yet there were only 1,011 cases of larceny reported to the police involving’ goods to the value of £18,129 of which £10,084 or 55.6 percent was recovered.The Port of London police made 820 arrests, charged 681 persons and 626 of these were convicted.Yet nowhere else in the world can one see so much valuable property in so small an area, apparently so easily accessible, and an easy prey for the thief.

It was in 1908 that the Port of London Authority, was created by an Act of Parliament to administer the Docks of the Port of London. It is a public trust, whichtook over the powers and undertakings of the old dock companies and whose business it is to administer the port for the good of the public. The P.L.A. took over, along with the rest of the dock companies’ personnel, the three separate police forces in being, and set about welding them into one force, reorganised on the lines of the metropolitan police.

To-day the P.L.A. Police Force has a, strength of 593, under the control of the Chief Police Officer W. H. Simmons, M.B.E. Their power extends over the 3,521 acres of land, 720 acres of water and 44 miles of quays of the Port of London. The port of London (Consolidation) Act of 1920 gave the police power to stop, search and detain persons reasonably suspected of being in possession of property stolen or unlawfully obtained, and this power is extended to include premises, vehicles or boats within a radius of one mile of the Port of London. It operates five divisions within the Port: London and St. Katharine Docks; East and West India, and Millwall Docks; Royal Victoria and Albert and King George V Docks; Surrey Commercial Docks; and Tilbury Docks. Each division is in charge of a divisional inspector.There is a police station and motor ambulance service at each control. Each group of docks is surrounded by a wall or fence and there are no fewer than 89 entrance gates, 17 water entrances and 38 beats. All gates are manned by police and the interior is covered day and night the beat patrols; the total length of the beats being 166 miles.

All goods leaving the docks must be covered by a pass, signed by an authorised person, showing the number and description of the articles. An important duty ofthe constables at the gates is to collect the passes and ensure that the quantities taken out tally and that the signature is correct. This is specialised work for the pass system is an intricate one, and many different types of passes are used, varying from P.L.A.,Baggage Clearance, Demand and Grain Sample, to Ship’s Officers and Private Companies which have manufacturing plant inside the dock area.

The work of the constables at the gates is augmented by those on the beat, and although one may spend hours in the docks and seldom see a policeman, their regular patrols of the quays and warehouses where cargoes are being handled act as a great deterrent to pilferage.The greatest deterrent, however is the P.L.A. Police Mobile Squad: Once a policeman has passed any given point on his beat it is unlikely that he will reappear for some time; but no-one knows when and where the Mobile Squad will appear next. They will swoop on one dock, make a thorough search of vehicles, craft and personnel, and’ perhaps thirty minutes later be at another dock miles away.

The Port of London Police regard their primary function as the protection of property, the property of the world which passes through the London Docks. Only when they fail in this, and then failures are microscopic as statistics show, it is their duty to detained and bring the criminal to justice.

Although the PLA police were restricted to the docks, the work did present some unique dangers and there were fatalities due to accidents and assault. A list of which is shown below:

Port of London Authority Police Fatalities

PC Alfred William V. Daws
Died 10 November 1913, aged 21
Found drowned in the docks where he was on patrol on a foggy night.

PC John Thomas Severn
Died 24 December 1914, aged 27
Drowned when they fell into the dock while on patrol in a dense fog.

PC William Ware
Died 24 December 1914, aged 28
Drowned when they fell into the dock while on patrol in a dense fog.

Insp John Joseph Jeffers
Died 22 August 1915, aged 60
Found drowned in the Millwall Dock while on patrol in the early hours.

SC Truman Ellis
Died 15 May 1917, aged 52
Accidentally killed on patrol when part of a ship’s cargo fell on him.

PC John Reilly
Died 15 April 1918, aged 59
Whilst on patrol in the early hours he fell into the dock and drowned.

PC Frederick Cheese
Died 9 October 1921, aged 31
Drowned when he accidentally fell in the dock while on patrol at night.

PC Frederick Edward P. Miller
Died 21 April 1923, aged 23
Fatally injured in a fall guarding the scene of a warehouse fire.

Insp George Henry Ponsford
Died 21 February 1924, aged 50
Fatally injured on patrol at Tilbury Docks by a fall into a dry dock.

Insp James Frederick Berry
Died 4 September 1929, aged 53
Found drowned on duty in a dock with no evidence as to the cause.

Sgt Henry Frederick Wren
Died 15 January 1930, aged 49
Whilst on patrol he was knocked down and run over by a train.

PC Robert Charles Winney
Died 18 September 1940, aged 45
Sgt Charles Edward Showell
Died 19 September 1940, aged 40
Fatally injured by an unexploded bomb while investigating bomb damage.
Posthumous King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct in Civil Defence to both.

PC Reginald Ernest Smith
Died 1 December 1949, aged 53
Fatally wounded when accidentally shot by an armed security officer.

PC Frederick Stanley Giddings
Died 16 October 1951, aged
Drowned while on bicycle patrol when he rode into the dock in a fog.

When the docks closed the PLA Police were downsized and limited to the Port of Tilbury and renamed the Port of Tilbury Police.

Raving with the Clangers at the Museum of London Docklands – 23 November 2019

Photo credit David Parry/PA Wire

One of the Museum of London Docklands most popular events is the museum’s annual family rave with the award-winning Big Fish Little Fish. Now in its fifth year, family rave pioneers Big Fish Little Fish will turn the 200 year old warehouse into a wonderland with confetti, balloons and bubbles as world-famous DJ Barry Ashworth (Dub Pistols) takes to the decks to serve a host of tunes from acid house to drum and bass.

This year, the event will have some special guests with youngest members of the Clangers family, Tiny and Small. They will also make an appearance in the special Clangers room where mini-ravers can get creative by decorating eco-friendly plant pots before taking a special pack of Clangers seeds to grow at home. Celebrating fifty years of the iconic children’s TV show, the curious creatures will be helping to provide eco-friendly fun for all the family.

Photo credit David Parry/PA Wire

Elsewhere in the museum, you’ll get the chance to experience the unique sensory room and make animal and plant inspired décor with Captain Cookie Crafts while the smallest of ravers can take a break from the beats in our modified Mudlarks children’s gallery.

With a licensed bar and café bites available, the Museum of London Docklands is the place to be for fun-loving families in this cross-generation celebration of dance, play and creativity. Different zones are created to cater to babes in arms and toddlers plus craft tables, colouring mural and play dough table.

So if you have little ones with surplus energy, let them have a great time and still be home for tea-time.

Family rave: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle with the Clangers
Museum of London Docklands
Saturday 23 November 2019

For more information, visit the Museum of London Docklands website here

ARA Libertad Tall Ship in West India Dock

Another interesting visitor for West India Dock is the ARA Libertad tall ship which is a training ship for the Argentine Navy. Ara Libertad is one of the largest and fastest tall ships in the world and holds a series of speed records.

The tall ship was designed and built in the 1950s by the Río Santiago Shipyard in Argentina and made her maiden voyage in 1961. Since then she has been a training ship and a travelling goodwill ambassador for Argentina. The ship is estimated to have covered more than 800,000 nautical miles (1,500,000 km), visited about 500 ports in more than 60 countries and trained over 11,000 navy personel.

The ship has a total length (including bowsprit) of 103.75 m (340.4 ft); a beam of 14.31 m (46.9 ft) and is world’s sixth longest tall ship and the third heaviest. The crew usually numbers around 350, including 24 officers, 187 crewmen and 150 naval cadets. Unusually the ship has four fully functional cannons which are used for salutes.

It is the first time that the Libertad has visited London for 17 years and marks the half-way point on the 48th midshipman training voyage.

The Frigate departed from Buenos Aires on 17th of August and will navigate over 23 thousand miles in 2019, visiting 15 ports in 10 countries, including: Salvador de Bahía (Brazil); Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Cadiz (Spain); Lisbon (Portugal); Brest (France); Antwerp (Belgium); London (United Kingdom); Dublin (Ireland); Boston and Miami (U.S.A); Bridgetown (Barbados); Recife and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Montevideo (Uruguay).

The ship is due to be open for visitors for free tours on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th of October before the ship departs on the 29th October.

Havering Hoard: A Bronze Age Mystery at the Museum of London Docklands – 3 April to 25 October 2020

Havering Hoard site discovery (c) Archaeological Solutions Ltd

Something to look forward to in the new year is a major exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands in April 2020. The exhibition entitled Havering Hoard: A Bronze Age Mystery will feature the largest ever Bronze Age hoard to be discovered in London which was unearthed in Havering.

A total of 453 bronze objects dating between c.900 and c.800 BC have been uncovered during a planned archaeological investigation, with weapons and tools including axe heads, spearheads, fragments of swords, daggers and knives found alongside some other unusual objects, which are rarely found in the UK.

Havering Hoard (c) Museum of London

Because most of the weapons appear to be partially broken or damaged, the exhibition will offer some suggestions about why these objects ended up being carefully buried in groups close together.

Havering Hoard (c) Museum of London

Bronze Age finds of this type are very rare and the exhibition is a unique opportunity for Londoners to find out more about their ancestors. This exhibition is the latest of a long line of fascinating free exhibitions at the Museum of London Docklands.


Havering Hoard: A Bronze Age Mystery
Museum of London Docklands
Fri 3 Apr – Sun 25 Oct 2020