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Monthly Archives: July 2019

Sittard and Rigel ships in West India Dock

Two very unusual ships are visiting West India Dock, with the Sittard and the Rigel. Both are Dutch and are used as sailing training ships. Most training ships tend to be old sailing ships or based on old sailing ships, these two have very different histories.

Sittard is a Dokkum-class minesweeper from the mid-fifties which served with the Royal Netherlands Navy for 40 years. After the end of the Second World War, there was a desperate need for minesweepers to help with clearing European coastal waters of mines. 16 Dokkum-class ships were built in various shipyards around The Netherland in the 1950s. Sittard was launched in 1956 and commissioned in the same year.

Over the next forty years, Sittard carried out a number of operations for the Royal Netherlands Navy. In 1996, Sittard was decommissioned and was made seaworthy by the navy before being transferred to Harlingen unit of the Dutch Sea Cadet Corps. Since then the Sittard has served as the Harlingen Sea Cadets training ship, taking cadets on training cruises throughout The Netherlands and to neighboring countries.

It is very unusual that an ex Navy vessel like a minesweeper is used for training sea cadets but Sittard has a number of surprises. The ship’s hull consists of 2 layers of wood; the inner layer is mahogany and the outer is teak with a superstructure of aluminium.

The Rigel Maassluis was a former Hook of Holland Pilot ship built in 1948 and now used as a training ship by the Maasluis Sea Cadet Corps. Nearby is the Lord Amory which is used by the local Dockland Scout Project.

The Great Fire of Limehouse in 1850 by Michael Murnoir

Recently I was contacted by Michael Murnoir who has close ties with Limehouse and has agreed to share some of his stories and memories. In his first contribution, Michael tells the story of the little known Great Fire of Limehouse in 1850 which severely damaged St Anne’s Church. 

Being back in Limehouse last Sunday after some few years away it was great to walk down Narrow Street, up Three Colts Street and arrive at St Anne’s.  What a magnificent landmark, the church has been for nearly 300 years old.  It set me thinking of its past and wondering if it is still marked on navigation charts issued by Trinity House.  It probably still has Royal permission to fly the White Ensign, unchanged since the days of Queen Anne. The Tatham’s tomb is still beside the church but inaccessible now with the ‘new’ fence around the churchyard.  Years ago my mate, Mike Borman, (now dead) and I would sit there and chat in the sun.  The Tathams were an old family with a bit of money.  The local joke was they all got married at St Dunstans in Stepney and buried at St Anne’s because it was closer to Heaven!!

Limehouse Church – 1780

The church has faced some major disasters over the years, it was repaired after bomb damage in World War Two.  It took a long time and a lot of effort to raise the money for that.  But the Church had been badly damaged before that;

How many know of or can recall the story of the ‘Great Fire of Limehouse’, I came across  the following report which may be of interest.  The fire was on Good Friday 1850 and reported the next day.

London Evening Standard on the 30th March 1850, ‘Total Destruction of Limehouse Church by Fire’:

‘We had the lamentable task yesterday of announcing the total destruction by fire of the beautiful parish church of St. Anne, Limehouse. We now append some further particulars:-

It appears that at seven o’clock yesterday morning a man named Wm. Rumbold, who lights the stove fires, and attending to the heating of the church, entered the edifice and proceeded with his duties. He ignited both the furnaces, and at a quarter past eight o’clock was about to satisfy himself of the degree of temperature in the interior of the church, when he perceived a strong smell of burning wood, and shortly afterwards saw a quantity of smoke issue from the roof. Impressed with a fear that something serious had happened, Rumbold ran off to the residence of Mr. George Coningham, the beadle and engine keeper of the parish, who resides about 150 yards distant from the church.

Coningham instantly returned with Rumbold to the church, on reaching which, Coningham ascended through the belfry and immediately opened a door over the organ loft leading to a vast chamber extending over the whole body of the church. As soon as the door was opened, Coningham and Rumbold were both driven back and nearly suffocated by a rush of smoke and rarefied air which issued out of this chamber, and clearly indicated where the seat of the mischief really was. 

Coningham and Rumbold, with a view to rousing the neighbourhood, rang the two bells.  An immense congregation of the inhabitants very speedily assembled.  The fire had by this time begun to make its way through the roof.  As yet there was no engine on the spot, and but a very scanty supply of water flowed from the street plugs.

The Rev. George Roberts, curate of the parish, who had by this time arrived. headed a large party of gentlemen, and by their exertions all the registers and other valuable parochial documents have been fortunately saved. 

The progress of the flames was so rapid that not a little risk was incurred in this good work.

Several engines had arrived before the roof fell, and a very good supply of water was at length obtained, but from the great difficulty of getting at the spot where the fire raged, all the efforts of the firemen were comparatively fruitless, and Mr Braidwood, the leader of the force, at once pronounced that any hope of saving the interior of the church was quite out of the question. 

The church was one of the most perfect interiors of the period in which it was built – Queen Anne’s time.  It possessed a magnificent organ, built by Richard Bridge, in 1741, and a superb altar window of painted glass.’.

The pall of smoke must have been immense and the crowd large and sombre.  After the Great Fire the rebuild took place from 1851 to 1857 and was supervised by Messrs John Morris and Philip Hardwick.  The font dates from the restoration carried out after the fire.

I stopped by the church and enjoyed listening to part of the service, and noticed the church is being repaired again. There is a donation box in there to help with the work, some of which is already in progress.

It is one more episode in the remarkable story of survival of this beautiful building.

While reminiscing I recalled the old Limehouse question

‘How far is it from the Cape of Good Hope to Limehouse Church?

The answer was the width of Commercial Road.  Limehouse Church stood on one side of the road and The Cape of Good Hope pub on the other.’

Michael Murnoir