Like many people during lockdown, I kept very much to my local area and did not do my usual wanderings around the Island. However with Canary Wharf in easy walking distance, I decided to have a wander around the large estate.
On the surface, little seems to have changed with gardeners tending the green areas and contractors working on the many building projects but what you begin to realise is that there are very few office workers and most of the people wandering about are wearing masks. The once bustling financial district which used to welcome over 120,000 workers each day is much emptier with estimates of less than 10,000 workers returning to their offices.
One noticeable change has been the often packed tube station is much quieter with the crowds now slowed to a trickle.
Many of the large banks and businesses seem in no hurry to get the thousands of workers back into Canary Wharf to their offices. To encourage workers to return, The Canary Wharf group has installed signs and created a one-way system for pedestrians, it is also regularly cleaning public areas and will manage the towers’ lifts to ensure social distancing. However, despite these measures, employers and employees show little urgency to return to their offices after several months of working from home.
One of the major problems is that the vast majority of people commute to the area using public transport, and many workers remain uneasy about being stuck in a crowded tube.
Walking around Canary Wharf, another realisation is that the many small businesses which rely on office workers are struggling with few or no customers. In pre-pandemic times there would be hundreds of people per day queuing for coffee or fast food, now it is just one or two.
Is this the end of Canary Wharf as we used to know it ?
One worry for the small businesses is that the thousands of office workers will never return in large numbers because of changing working patterns. Just a few months ago, Canary Wharf was looking forward to extending the estate with many new buildings and Crossrail poised to deal with the proposed increase in workers. Those plans now seem more than optimistic and the next few months will show if there is a market for office space or not.
The initial signs are not good, Morgan Stanley is said to be reviewing their London requirements, Credit Suisse is giving up some office space and Barclays is considering its headquarters altogether.
However, there is some people that suggest that even if the huge landmark office buildings are slowly being emptied, Canary Wharf could become the world’s biggest technology hub.
Over the years writing for Isle of Dogs Life, it has always surprised me how often history repeats itself. The docks were seen as an integral part of London but their time came and went. No area is safe from world events and Canary Wharf is probably facing its biggest challenge since it was raised from the ashes of the West India Docks.
Regular readers will know that I am fascinated by Trinity Buoy Wharf and Orchard Place, although some way distant from the “Island”, the area was considered for centuries, part of the Isle of Dogs. Orchard Place is now the site of the City Island development but for many years the small spit of land surrounded by Bow Creek was the home to a few Industrial concerns.
However from the 19th century up to the 1930s this was the home for a small settlement of people who in some ways were effectively cut off from the Isle of Dogs. Their remoteness led to number of stories about their lawlessness and rough lifestyle, their reputation were not helped by visitors such as William Booth researchers who considered them some of the poorest and roughest in London.
These stories were obviously exaggerated because a police inspector told the Booth researcher that the residents were no trouble and Inspectors of the local board school often praised its educational performance and children’s behavior.
The small population suffered greatly with the 1928 flooding of the area. In the early 1930s a newspaper report labelled them London’s Lost village. In the slum clearances of the 1930s, most of the small population was rehoused in a new block of flats at Oban House in nearby Poplar and the houses pulled down.
One of the people rehoused was Charles Lammin who wrote down his recollections in 1935 about life in the “lost” village.
“The Orchard House, is in the shape of twin peninsulas, it was populated about 120 years ago. On the site was built about 100 two-storied cottages, also several factories. Thirty or forty cottages have since been demolished at various dates to make room for improvements. (The rest are now in 1935 condemned as unfit for human habitation).
“The Orchard House is part of old Blackwall in the Parish of All Saints, Poplar, but about 1876 it was separated from the main part by the cutting of the basin of the East India Dock which left us isolated from the main roads, excepting a narrow road, named Leamouth Road, (this was formerly named Orchard Street).
“The Orchard House is bounded on the south side by the river Thames, on the north and east by Bow Creek, on the west by the East India Dock. The narrow Leamouth Road between Bow Creek and the East India Dock is all that joins us to the mainland of Poplar; therefore, the natives have always felt to be nothing to do with other districts.
“From its start to the present, we have never had either a butcher, baker, barber, post office, Police Station, Fire Station or Pawn Shop, or seen a tramway or bus in our neighbourhood, so we have to do all our domestic business in Poplar, via Leamouth Road, which is a long and lonely walk, especially by night.
People originally moved to Orchard Place to work in the various industrial concerns especially the Glass Works, Charles Lammin provides more information.
“Up to about 1875 the Glass House prospered, employing about 75% of all the inhabitants of the Orchard House, who were nearly all related. Plate glass was made there and sent all over the Country, including all the glass used in making the Crystal Palace, but about 1875 the competition of the United States glass industry ruined the Old Orchard House glass factory and caused them to close down. Therefore, the largest proportion of the workers, both men and women emigrated to New Albany, Indiana, U.S.A. to follow up the same class of work. They have invariably stayed there and have gradually died. (My Grandfather and Grandmother amongst them).
“There are still a large number of descendants of the glass workers living in the Orchard House, the most numerous are the Lammins, the Scanlans and the Jeffries, who also have greatly intermarried.”
Over the last few years, I have been contacted by a number of people whose relatives lived on Orchard Place and have sent more information about the close but relatively unknown community. Recently I was contacted by Lynn Gordon whose grandfather lived in Orchard Place and had been recently had a number of documents and photos passed onto her by a relative who has sadly recently passed away.
Lynn with grandad Fred Scanlan
Lynn has kindly permitted Isle of Dogs Life to publish a few of the photos for the benefit of other relatives and interested readers. Lynn has fond memories of her grandad and was 11 when my grandad passed away. She has a letter from Tom Scanlan, her grandads cousin, they used to live next door to each other in Orchard place, two brothers married two sisters. In the letter, he was asking her grandad to go to Canvey island on a boat.
The people in Orchard Place were known for their boating prowess and innovation, Charles Lammin mentions that “At the present time 20% of the men of the Orchard House own motor boats of various sizes; they are mostly converted from old ships, lifeboats, whalers, fishing boats, etc., These are converted by the men themselves, and a great source of pleasure for them and their families and friends in fine weather or holiday times, is a trip down the Thames as far as Canvey Island.”
Lynn recognises her grandfather Fredrick James Scanlan and Rose Cooke in the photographs. They were to get married but sadly Rose died. One early photograph bears the name Jeremiah Scanlon.
If anyone has further information about the photographs or Orchard Place, please get in touch.
A couple of weeks ago, I published a book review of “Smith of Lambeth” by David Jones, the book was about David’s early life and his family who were from the Isle of Dogs. David has very kindly sent more information that tells us more about the Joneses life on the Island.
David’s paternal grandfather, Richard Jones, and his parents, brothers and sisters, left their home in Wales in the 1880s and settled on the Island. His grandfather Richard Jones, and two of his brothers, William and Edward soon showed their sporting prowess playing for Millwall Football Club who were then based on the Island. Richard would later play for Manchester City before gaining international honors for Wales.
One of stories in the book is about William Jones who after playing for Millwall and Sheppey United, signed for Ryde on the Isle of Wight. In 1899, 25 year old William was playing for Ryde in the Isle of Wight Senior Cup final when in scoring the winning goal, he collided with the goalkeeper and died from the injuries sustained.
A newspaper report from the time gives us more information of the tragic event.
At an inquest held at Ryde, Isle of Wight, on ‘William Jones; the professional football player, who died from injuries received at a match, William Jennings, of Southampton,, the referee, said that Jones was dashing with the ball in front of him for goal wherein Reed, the goalkeeper, ran out to meet the ball. The men collided and fell, Reed’s knee striking Jones, who was picked up in great agony. Reed did not break the rules, and had there been no accident he would not have cautioned him. Other witnesses said they considered the affair quite accidental, It was stated that the post-mortem examination revealed ruptured intestines. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and found that no blame attached to any one; They asked the coroner, however, to communicate with the English Football Association, advising .that more stringent be adopted to prevent rough play.
David’s father’s family kept a green grocery shop on Glengall Road in which his paternal grandmother, née Skeels, worked. David’s parents, aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, were born on the Island as was David in 1934.
David provides more information about his family :
David’s great grandparents, William & Betsy Skeels.
My great grandparents, William & Betsy Skeels. They had 10 children. They lived at 495 Glengall Road, Cubitt Town. They had a greengrocers shop on Glengall Road where my Grandmother, Ada Skeels, and my Dad, Richard William Jones, worked from time to time. They also operated a Fruit & Veg Barrow. William is also reported to have been a fishmonger. One of their sons, Reuben, was killed in World War 1, in 1917.
Ada Skeels is mentioned in an Old Bailey court case from 1900.
19th November 1900
LORENZO MORFINI (33) and GIOVANNI BALDASARI (30) , Unlawfully having counterfeit coin in their possession, with intent to utter it. Other Counts, for attempting to utter, and uttering.
MR. PARTRIDGE Prosecuted, and MESSRS. GEOGHEGAN and SANDS Defended
Baldasari; and the evidence was interpreted.
LUIGI FERANI . I live at 30, Manchester Road, East—I understand English a little—in March I let a second floor back room to the prisoner Baldasari—on September 27th the prisoner Morfini arrived with two portmanteaux, and the two prisoners occupied one room, in which the portmanteaux were till October 14th—on October 15th the police came, and I pointed out to them the room and the portmanteaux.
Cross-examined by MR. SANDS. I keep a boarding-house for Italians, and 10 or 12 live there—Baldasari was one—he went out with an ice-cream barrow—Morfini came as a stranger, but three years ago he had stayed there—Morfini had a friend named Joseppe to see him—he had a fair moustache—I only saw him go out twice—Baldasari came home about 9 p.m.—he went out as usual the morning the police came—I first knew that Morfini was in prison when the police arrested Baldasari.
Cross-examined. There were two single beds in the room—no one but the prisoners used the room—Morfini did a little shoemakers’ work in the house.
ADA SKEELS . I assist my parents in a shop at 85, Glengall Road, Millwall—we keep open all day on Sundays—on Sunday, October 14th, about 8.20 a.m., Baldasari came in for a pennyworth of walnuts—he gave me a penny—he walked away a little distance, and came back and bought another pennyworth of walnuts—he gave me a florin—I gave him 1s. 11d. change—I put the florin in my pocket with two others—I afterwards found one of them was bad—there was another man with him; a shorter man—on October 23rd I picked Baldasari out from 15 or 16 people in the prison yard at Thames Police-court at once.
My parents, Richard William and Ethel Caroline Jones, were married on Christmas Day, 1928, at Christ Church on Manchester Road. A few years back, I visited the church and spoke to Father Tom Pyke. He told me that it was quite common, in those days, for working class people to marry on Christmas Day.
My mother’s family name was Draper. She was one of 11 children, 7 of whom survived to maturity. Her father was an itinerant dock worker, a concertina player, and a heavy drinker. At sometime, he was a soldier, I have a picture of him in uniform, but I don’t know his years of service. He had a violent temper and his children feared him. My Aunt Lily, on the death of her parents, took on the duties of raising the three youngest children. She had to prevent social workers from taking them and putting them in foster homes. She always praised good neighbors for helping her. My mother, and her brothers and sisters, had only warm words for their mother. Both parents died in their 40s.
My fathers family is covered in my book. Apart from the 3 brothers all playing for Millwall, my Uncle Bill played for the reserve team around 1930. He never made the first team.
Among the names often mentioned by parents, uncles and aunts, when talking about their lives on the Island were several Millwall football players. “Tiny Joyce” the Millwall goalkeeper During my Grandfathers playing days. Two 1920s players, Jack Fort and Jack Cock, both capped for England. and Elijah Moore, Millwall’s groundskeeper. They were all family friends. Two boxers were often mentioned, Ernie Jarvis, a flyweight contender, later News of the World boxing reporter, and Teddy Baldock, a claimant to the world bantamweight title. My Aunt Edie remembered him training in the streets and “sparring” with the lamp posts. Teddy was known as the “Pride of Poplar.“
My fathers younger sister, Ada, married Robert Kay, an independent lorry driver. He came from a Catholic family. The nearest catholic school was in Greenwich, so he had to walk through the foot tunnel under the Thames, every morning.
With such a large family, I am sure there are people living on the Island and beyond that have some connection to David’s family.
Many thanks to David for the information.