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Monthly Archives: December 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.