It is that time of the year when the spring flowers are blooming, the blossom is filling the trees and the birdsong is at its loudest. Although I enjoy the urban life, I do yearn occasionally for a walk through a woodland and the sound and smell of rural life.
To get my rural fix, I do not have to travel to far because we have Mudchute Park and Farm on our doorstep.
Like most things on the Isle of Dogs, Mudchute Park and Farm has a fascinating history, the large open space where the Mudchute Farm and Park now stands was for centuries grazing land. However during the building of the Millwall Docks in 1865 much of this land was used for storing the bricks that were used to build the dock walls and buildings. During construction of the Millwall Docks in 1865–7 the land remained a brickfield, However after the docks opened in 1868 the land was once again used for grazing.
This changed in 1875 when The Dock company developed an innovative system of dredging its docks designed by the company’s engineer, Frederic E. Duckham. This involved the pneumatic transmission of mud, out of the dock into a pipe which ran under East Ferry Road to be deposited on the grazing land creating a mudfield. Over time the mud accumulated to create small hills and bumps, however towards the end of the 19th Century there was concerns when the mudfield was considered a health hazard and steps were taken to close the pipe which was discontinued in 1910.
Gradually the hardened mudfield became known as the Mudchute and was later used for allotments . At the beginning of the war the land was used for gun placements. Many people may be surprised when they come across a large Ack Ack Gun in the farm but this is a reminder of its former use.
After the war various schemes were put forward for the use of the land , however it was not until 1973 that the site was transferred to the GLC to be used for housing. However there then began a campaign by local residents and supporters called the Association of Island Communities who wished the land to be used as public open space, the success of this campaign led to the creation of an urban farm in 1977.
In 1977, the Mudchute Association was formed to preserve and develop the area which they have done by adding to the existing fauna and flora to provide a diverse environment that attracts all forms of wild life. It was somewhat ironic that the mud that had caused dismay to many people was full of nutrients that provided good growing conditions for many plants.
Farm animals have been introduced over the years to give visitors a variety of experience, there has always been an educational aspect to the Associations work and close ties have been developed with local companies, local schools and other community groups.
Spring is a wonderful time to visit the farm with spring lambs running around the field. The outer parts of the park is woodland with lots of wildlife and paths that take you all over the park.
The sheep were not the only attractions, there Alpaca were enjoying the sunshine as were the various horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, turkey, pigs and much more. Mudchute Park & Farm is one of the largest inner City Farms in Europe with a wonderful collection of British rare breeds and currently home to over 100 animals and fowl. Set in 32 acres of countryside in the heart of East London, Mudchute is a community charity which runs a number of events throughout the year.
If you suffer from some the strains of urban life, why not take a wander to Mudchute and enjoy the wonderful rural surroundings of the park and farm.
Photograph by Eric Pemberton
Those taking a walk this morning near the river would have been treated to the sight of a tall ship gliding down the Thames. The Dar Mlodziezy is a Polish sail training ship which was launched in 1981 at the Gdańsk shipyard in Poland. She had been built to replace the frigate Dar Pormoza which had been used to train officers for over fifty years.
Photograph by Eric Pemberton
The Dar Mlodziezy was one of six similiar ships that were were built by the same shipyard. Her sister ships were named Mir, Druzhba, Pallada, Khersones and Nadezhda. Her home port is Gdynia and she has been owned by the Gdynia Maritime Academy since she was built in 1982.
The Dar Mlodziezy was the first Polish-built, ocean-going sailing vessel to circumnavigate the globe in 1987–88 and been a regular in Tall Ships’ Races for over 25 years.
Photograph by Eric Pemberton
The ship is 108.8 m (357 ft) long with a beam of 12 m (39 ft). She usually sails with a crew of around 176 (40 crew and 136 cadets). If you would like a look at the ship, she is currently berthed at Greenwich.
Many thanks to Eric Pemberton for the photographs .
Recently I published an article about Love on the Isle of Dogs, the latest work by writer, illustrator and broadcaster Jude Cowan Montague. I am delighted to say that Jude has produced a series of drawings that show Canary Wharf in a very different light. Canary Wharf may be the workplace for thousands of workers but there is no reason that children can turn it into something very different.
My daughter was born on the Isle of Dogs, in one of the self-builds on the Westferry Road. When she was young I would carry her to Mudchute Farm to see the animals. In the 1990s, Canary Wharf was not yet the glassy, chrome wonderland it’s become.
But I can imagine it as a strange kind of paradise for young eyes. There is the fairground ride of the DLR, the circuses, the huge towering, impossibly high mountains of buildings, so clean and crisp. It is a city that doesn’t obey ordinary suburban rules. And the docks, these wide expanses of water have a little magic of lakes, so deep, so close to the buildings. A touch of the Lake District here in London.
Thinking about Canary Wharf and surrounding areas from a child’s point of view took me back to my childhood, visiting places with my father that you wouldn’t expect a child to like. He was fascinated by military history and there are photographs of me sitting on tanks, eating lollies wearing a pretty dress with my smug brother looking as proud as if he had won a battle. I remember how industrial places felt too, the great abandoned factories of the north. I am originally from Manchester and Bolton.
I also thought of my childhood reading and the imaginary places of storybooks. Swallows and Amazons made me think of playing pirates. Even the word circus was evocative and I thought of tightrope walking on the guide rails. The fountains look like someone should be playing in them and I hope with time that more people do, especially children of workers and those who live locally.
Canary Wharf, with its dramatic scale, could re-engage with our inner child’s perception. It can be a tool to look at the modern world as a kind of unrealistic dream. There is a unrealism to the brassy image of shiny commerce. In these pictures I have used its dynamic environment as a trigger of wonder.
Many thanks to Jude for the drawings and text and if you like her work, she is currently raising funds to publish her latest work, Love on the Isle of Dogs – a graphic novel. If you would like to find out more or contribute, click the link here
As part of International Women’s Week, the Friends of Island History Trust will host an exhibition which will be looking at the significant contribution of women living, volunteering and working on the Isle of Dogs from the 20th Century onwards.
The exhibition includes a screening of a short film entitled Island Girl, by the female students of George Green School and an exhibition of images of ‘Island Women’ by Designer Anna Lincoln and will include a presentation by FoIHT on the life of Nellie Cressall, one time Island resident and former Mayor and Councillor for Poplar. During the afternoon attendees will also be invited to reflect on and consider how the Equality Act and recent campaigns have impacted on ordinary women today and how further changes can be achieved.
The afternoon will start off with a fitness session in the main hall with Zumba for ladies 18 and over from 1.15 until 2.15, at the same time the presentation on the remarkable Nellie Cressall will take place in the history room.
There will be stalls run by local groups and refreshments and time to reflect on the event which will be rounded off at 4’oclock by centre user group TANGO E14 with a demonstration of Argentinian Tango
Invited participants include One Housing, George Green School, Tower Hamlets Sports Development and TANGO E14 and Exhibition Designer Anna Lincoln and local photographer Ioana Marinca
St John’s Community Centre,
37-43 Glengall Road E14 3NE
Saturday 9th March 1pm-5pm
Everyone is welcome.
Recently I wrote a post regarding the joy of walking around Millwall Dock, this week my journey take me a short distance away from Canary Wharf to Limehouse Basin. Although now the basin is quite sedate and full of narrow and leisure boats, It is hard to imagine that in the past the dock would have full of sailing ships, steam colliers, lighters and full of activity with people dealing with various cargoes. However if you know where to look, there is evidence of its illustrious past.
Regent’s Canal Dock 1823
Limehouse Basin or Limehouse Dock as it is sometimes known was previously called The Regent’s Canal Dock because built by the Regent’s Canal Company and it connected the Regent’s Canal with the River Thames at Limehouse. The idea behind the Regent’s Canal Dock was that the basin was to be built large enough to admit sea-going vessels and cargo could be transferred to and from lighters or narrow boats.
Photo – A G Linney 1933
The Regent’s Canal Dock was considered a commercial failure following its opening in 1820, however by the mid 19th century it had become very successful because in the trade in coal and its role as the principal entrance from the Thames to the entire national canal network. The rise of the railways led to some decline but the system was still used extensively in the First and Second World Wars.
On the north side of the basin is a viaduct that was originally built for the London and Blackwall Railway in the 1840s and is now used by The Docklands Light Railway.
Behind a viaduct arch is the tower of a hydraulic accumulator from 1869, The Regent’s Canal Dock was one of the first to use hydraulic power using a system was developed by William Armstrong.
The Basin today is full of narrow boats which is a reminder of its glory days, but other vessels can be spotted including a couple of Thames barges. Many people live on the narrow boats which are permanently moored here.
The connection to the Regent’s Canal is still there, enabling boats to go inland or onto the Thames.
There is also a connection onto the Limehouse Cut which links the basin to the Lee Navigation at Bow Locks. The Limehouse Cut used to be connected directly to the River Thames. From 1854, the Regents Canal took control of Limehouse Cut and built a connecting link into the Regents Canal Dock. However the link was short-lived and in 1864, it was filled in.
In the 1960s, the lock that connected Limehouse Cut to the Thames needed to be replaced. So the decision was made to reinstate a link to the Regents Canal Dock. This connection was opened in 1968 and as you walk around the dock you can follow Limehouse Cut as it makes its way north.
Limehouse Basin suffered decline in the 1970s and 80s like the docks but redevelopment of the Basin was considered in the 1980s. Over the next 20 years, residential development took place on the derelict land surrounding the basin.
Now it is possible to walk all around the basin and enjoy the various attractions, there is plenty of birdlife and even a community book exchange which I noticed had a book by Carol Rivers who we often feature on the website.
The Island and Limehouse are great places to understand some of the remarkable history of the area. Limehouse Basin and the Docks were important transport hubs that for centuries created important trade connections with Britain and the rest of the world.