I was delighted recently to hear from Coral Rutterford who often send her memories of growing up in Poplar in the 1940s. Coral attended Alton Street Primary School and in 1947, the school had a very special visitor, film star Paulette Goddard.
Now largely forgotten, Goddard was an American actress who became a major star in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Her most notable films were Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and The Great Dictator.
Goddard was married for short time to Charlie Chaplin, before marrying actor Burgess Meredith in 1944.
Coral takes up the story:
The day I met a film star at school
I attended Alton Street Primary School way back in 1947 or thereabouts. I was in my final year there prior to going onto George Greens Grammar School which was located in East India Dock Rd at that time. I was 10-11 years old, my class teacher at that time asked that the next day would I wear some nice clothes and didn’t say why. I didn’t remember her request when I got home and it was forgotten.
I turned up at school next day wearing the same old maroon slip dress with a blouse that I wore all week as I didn’t have many clothes to change into every day. I did have a turquoise “best dress” and was only worn on weekends if the family went out. We were just an average working-class family, living in 2 rooms and money was tight, as it was for most people at that time, after recovering from the effects of the war still visible in the neighbourhood and still living with rationing.
It was time to assemble in the school hall as usual each morning for hymn singing and any information the headmaster wanted to pass on. Then I was pulled out of line along with other pupils in the other classes, one child each presented their class. We were all bewildered by this, I didn’t remember doing anything wrong.
Then the headmaster left the stage and went over to collect some visitors who were waiting at the back of the hall. As they made their way towards the stage a murmur of voices sounded excited and chatting was heard. The girls who had been taken aside at assembly, including me, were moved onto the stage as the special visitor made her way towards us.
She was a vision of beauty dressed in a white, long, short haired fur coat with a hood attached. Gold sandals at her feet and gold bangles on her wrist. Beautifully presented with hair and make-up. This was Paulette Goddard, a film actress who was married for a short time to Charlie Chaplin. He was a Londoner as we all were and he was famous for his acting in silent movies, portraying a short man dressed in black and wearing a bowler hat. He made several movies that made us laugh.
Once we kids got over the pleasant shock of seeing this lovely lady we were ushered up onto the stage and we stood around Paulette who was seated while the headmaster introduced her. She then spoke and advised us she was there to present food parcels to each of the pupils in the school on behalf of donations made by some Americans who realised how difficult life had been for us living in the East End during the war. Enduring continual bombing in the docklands area by Hitler’s air force, the area was flattened and there was a great loss of life that made life tough to get through each day.
Each girl who represented her class was given a parcel, it was heavy too. It contained foodstuffs, a tin of butter, some tinned meat, sugar, a big bar of chocolate, how wonderful to receive chocolate as we hadn’t seen chocolate during the war years, or any sweets at all. They stayed on ration for years after the war. Once rationing was removed and sweet shops were able to obtain stocks, they were swallowed up within hours and so we still didn’t get to buy them.
Other tinned products were included and we, as a family, were so grateful for the kindness shown to us. Other schools were included in this food parcel giveaway and they would have been as appreciative as we were.
The parents had to collect the parcel from school as it was too heavy for us kids to carry it home. It was such luxury after being so frugal during those war years, making do with bread and dripping because the food shortage was so great. We rarely saw an egg and a slice of tinned corned beef was a luxury.
After this event my uncle advised us that a photo of the event in Alton Street School was printed in the Daily Mail newspaper. It showed our group of class representatives standing around Paulette Goddard, what a memorable day for us all.
Coral’s memories is a reminder to us all that often a few everyday items can be luxuries when times are tough.
Canary Wharf is famous for its Winter Lights installations which lighten up the dark winter’s night, in contrast the new Summer Lights installations celebrates natural light across the Canary Wharf estate.
The Summer Lights exhibition features eleven new artworks that illustrate the natural light and the power of the sun’s rays.
On a warm sunny day, I wandered around to look at the installations.
Circle of Light Spectrum by toyStudio, Cabot Square
Circle of Light [Spectrum] is an exploration of the hidden nature of the sun in our natural environment. The installation expresses the many colours which make up sunlight and the visual spectrum, mapping them into an arc defined by the position of the sun at sunrise and sunset.
Hymn to the Big Wheel by Liz West, Wren Landing
Hymn to the Big Wheel is an immersive sculptural work exploring the illusion and physicality of colour and natural light in space. Consisting of a multicoloured octagon nestled within a larger octagonal shape, this work encourages the viewer to reposition and align themselves to differing colourways to see a changing scope of colours mixing before their eyes.
Whirl by Helena Doyle X Tom Cherry & Temple, Cubitt Steps
Whirl transforms the wind into a dynamic dance of colour and light. The audience is invited to sit beneath the domed structure, relax and enjoy the mesmerising light show overhead. Whirl aims to showcase the beauty and versatility of wind power and inspire the audience to imagine a future powered by renewable energy.
Out of the Cocoon by Amberlights, Wood Wharf
Out of the Cocoon is a colourful, interactive seating installation that can be admired both from afar and up close. As you walk around the structure see how the colours change before your eyes. The giant butterfly wings symbolise the new life that emerges.
Kilpi by toyStudio, Wood Wharf
Kilpi is the third installation in a series of sculptures by toyStudio inspired by traditional Nordic Sami huts and places of shelter in their most basic form. The installation’s intricate perforations are based on celestial maps and represent the constellations found in the skies above Canary Wharf.
Round and Round by Martin Richman, Jubilee Park
Round and Round brings the Jubilee Park ponds to life, creating a lively space full of reflecting and refracting shapes and colours. As the circles turn in the sun and wind, they create moving shapes illuminating everything around them, casting visually rich patterns of coloured light responding to the weather and the artificial illuminations within its orbit.
Summer Cloud We Dream Of You by Tine Bech Studio, Cabot Square
Summer Cloud invites you to dream and see the world around you. This playful work reflects both visitors and the world around us. The cloud is the perfect metaphor for our age. It’s shape-shifting qualities can inspire hope not only representing the idea of change but symbolising the human ability to dream.
Shine your Colours by Tine Bech Studio, Riverside
Shine your Colours is a multifaceted artwork that allows visitors to see themselves and the world through different colours. The installation consists of 6 transparent coloured glass panels that create a space focusing on wellbeing, where people can meet, relax and reflect.
Ocean Rise by Aphra Shemza, Riverside
Ocean Rise is a mixed reality sculpture that highlights the rise in sea levels due to global warming. Built using sustainable material the shape of the artwork emulates a wave in the ocean and is accompanied by a bespoke soundscape featuring field recordings of waves crashing on the shore created by the sound artist Mowgli, these can be accessed via a QR code.
Hidden Garden by Hugh Turvey, Crossrail Place Roof Garden
Hidden Garden is a scientific representation of flora, using the medium of x-ray imaging to highlight the hidden architectural structures within the subjects. Each image will cover a theme including sustainability, habitat, pollinators and medicinal, each captioned explaining either the science, research or statistics behind the image.
Kaleidoscopic Prisms by Fiona Grady, Jubilee Place, viewed from Jubilee Park
Kaleidoscopic Prisms by Fiona Grady is inspired by the children’s toy, combining a palette of rainbow transparent vinyl triangles that dance across the glass surface of the Jubilee atrium.
After lockdown, many people are enjoying the freedom to roam around and enjoy the fine weather, the installations provide a good reason to wander around Canary Wharf and enjoy the summer sun
This week, I was delighted to receive news of a new exhibition that offers many different perspectives of London life. Over the years, Isle of Dogs Life has featured many works by Frank Creber and he often works with other artists to provide a visual chronicle of London life.
Frank’s is best known for his topographical cityscape drawings of East London, he has worked for 35 years at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, as a Creative Director and Community Artist to develop programmes and activities that integrate art, health, training and the environment.
Frank and six other artists present a collective body of work mostly made during lockdown, in a exhibition at CHROM.GALLERY in the centre of Dalston, London.
The work on display includes: Ben Kilburn’s abstract, colourful shapes drawing on the natural and built world; Frank Creber’s mysterious exploration of East London communities; Graham Stone’s evocative drawings of local scenes;
Hedy Parry-Davies’s exploration of beautiful decay of historic architecture; Jane Smith’s tranquil and harmonious city views; Rory Brooke ’s vibrant landscapes with a darker note with Covid and climate change icons; and Steve Edwards’ dramatic but peaceful compositions.
The group of artists are linked by a fascination with London and its landscapes and connections with society and contemporary issues, exploring underlying themes and new ways of seeing.
There was a welcome sign that life was returning to West India Dock with the arrival of Dr No which is a 37 m / 121′5″ luxury motor yacht built by Narasaki Zosen in 1995.
The ship is very unusual because it was first launched in 1995 as the Japanese Fisheries training ship Wakachiba at the Muroran shipyard.
The yacht underwent major changes under her first yacht owner, Tom Perkins, who acquired the vessel in 2011 and developed it as an explorer yacht. The deck is littered with equipment to enable dinghies or submersibles to be launched.
The motor yacht can accommodate 12 guests in 5 cabins.
You often see larger ships converted for explorations but very unusual to see something of this size being used in this way.
Over the last few years, the top of the Island and Canary Wharf has seen unprecedented development with a number of large scale projects. One of the largest developments has been the Wood Wharf site which will have a mix of uses, including a residential area for over 3,200 new homes, nearly 2 million sq ft of commercial office space, and 335,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants and community uses.
Wood Wharf is part of the historic West India Docks and is the largest addition to the Canary Wharf estate since it came into being.
With part of the development near to completion, it is now possible to have a wander around some parts of Wood Wharf.
Wood Wharf is connected to the main estate by a bridge with two large Floating Pavilions nearby, one of which will be a restaurant.
Like Canary Wharf, Wood Wharf makes full use of the docks themselves with dockside walks and views from the Blue Bridge to the new buildings in the west.
The neighbourhood will have everything a thriving community needs, from a new local primary school to its own doctor’s surgery.
Like Canary Wharf, Wood Wharf already has plenty of outside public art and sitting areas.
Wood Wharf is multi-billion pound development and is expected to generate £2bn gross value from new jobs, add £199m into the local small business economy and generate 20,000 new jobs.
Under normal circumstances, the opening of Wood Wharf would a cause for celebration, however recent events have cast a cloud over the whole Canary Wharf site.
With many large firms allowing workers to work for home, many people are now looking at Wood Wharf and now asking whether it is surplus to requirements. Due to its mixed usage, it might escape the slowdown in Canary Wharf itself.
What the site does for visitors is provide plenty of attractive walks around the docks and places to sit and watch the boats and ships when they return to the dock.
With our increased freedom after the latest lockdown, I thought it was time to take a walk around Mudchute Park and Farm.
Mudchute have used the lockdown to start a few improvements including many of the pathways, refurbishment of the main courtyard including brand new toilets and a new water system around the whole farm.
Therefore there are parts of the farm which are closed off, however that will not spoil your visit too much because the wider park is open with many of the familiar animals in their fields and wide open spaces and woodland to enjoy.
A new part for me to look at was the memorial garden which is located near the large Ack Ack gun.
This time is usually noticable for the lambs jumping around but obviously this year that has changed.
One part of Mudchute that often get overlooked is the woodland walks which are very relaxing with plenty of birds flitting in and out of the trees.
The good news is the very good cafe is still open on Tuesday – Friday 10am-4pm and Saturday – Sunday 10am-5pm.
Mudchute Park and 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.
This is the first time since its inception that Mudchute has been able to undergo such refurbishment and improvements and it is hoped these works will have major positive effects for visitors to Mudchute.
After the latest lockdown, I decided to enter the brave new world by taking a walk around Canary Wharf and taking a look of some of their new artworks and to enjoy some spring sunshine.
During the lockdown a series of new works have appeared and other works have been relocated, here is quick tour around some of these pieces.
One of the most noticable new pieces is Gillie & Marc: Tandem Lovers 2020 in Reuters Plaza, ‘Tandem Lovers’ takes you on an adventure with Gillie and Marc’s characters, Rabbitwoman and Dogman.
Near the Canary Wharf station is Richard Hudson: Tear which offers a different perspective of the large buildings.
Although Cabot Square is dominated by Henry Moore’s Old Flo, and new piece tucked away is Bob Allen’s: It Takes Two which is a bronze cast of a carving from the fallen bough of an ancient English Yew listed in the Domesday Book.
Jubilee Park is full of new pieces including Helaine Blumenfeld’s Fortuna
For a pychedelic expereience go to Adams Plaza Bridge for Camille Walala’s Captivated By Colour
For something completely different, have a look at Julian Wild: Scribbleform
In the Crossrail Place Roof Garden is Michael Lyons: Shepherd of the Sun and Julian Wild’s Origin (Vertical)
Until the 19th of June, the roof garden is transformed into Crossorelle Roof Garden, a magical installation inspired by the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech.
Created by artists Baker & Borowski, the design is inspired by the history of the West India Docks and the plants that were brought there from faraway lands, such as North Africa.
Although it may be too early to visit museums and art galleries, there is plenty to enjoy artistically wandering around Canary Wharf.
Anyone walking along the riverside walk on the west side of the Island will come across the above plaque which marks one of the darkest days of the Island when more than 40 people were killed and 60 were injured after a bomb hit a public shelter on the 19th March 1941.
On the 5th July 2014, Friends of Island History Trust volunteers joined Keith Woods and others involved in the placing of a plaque, to recognise those killed and injured in the WWII bombing of a public shelter at Bullivants Wharf. Each year, there is a remembrance event at the plaque to mark the tragedy. Unfortunately this year, due to the restrictions of covid-19 a scaled down event will take place, with six representatives attending the memorial along the Thames Path on the 80th Anniversary of the atrocity on 19th March. Keith and Anne Woods will be joined by Con Maloney and Brian Smith and Reginald Beer and Councillor Peter Golds, to pay their respects and lay flowers, with Fr Tom Pyke (Christ Church) leading the proceedings at 12noon. At the corresponding time you are invited to join them in two minutes silence from the safety of your own home or workplace.
Prayers were said at St Edmunds last Sunday and at St Luke’s and those affected will be remembered this coming Sunday at Christ Church.
Mick Lemmerman on his wonderful Island History site has a comprehensive and insightful article that gives the full story of the tragedy at Bullivants Wharf
For further information on the WWII bombing see: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2021/03/12/the-80th-anniversary-of-the-tragedy-at-bullivants-wharf/
Last year I was contacted by David Jones who had written a book about his early life and gives some real insights into a child growing up in the 1930s and 1940s.
The book entitled “Smith of Lambeth,” tells the story of how his family, 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 later gained international honors for Wales.
David’s father’s family kept a green grocery shop on Glengall Road in which his paternal grandmother, née Skeels, worked. His mother’s family, née Draper, lived on Glengall Road. There were 11 children and their father was an itinerant dock worker. David’s parents, aunts and uncles, on both sides of my family, were born on the Island as was David in 1934. Not long afterwards, David’s immediate family moved to New Cross in South London but the Jones family maintained a large presence on the Island.
If you would like to find out more about the Jones family and life on the Island in the early 20th century, I am delighted to report that David and his family have made three videos available on YouTube which feature David’s father Richard and Auntie Ada Kay reminiscing about their life on the Island.
The videos were made in 1992 when the interviewees were in their 80s, in David’s house in Leonia, New Jersey. Richard, and Ada were on a rare holiday for both of them. The interviewer was Louise, a member of David’s family.
David’s father was born in 1904 and even remembered a Zeppelin being shot down over the Island in the first World War. The interviews cover a wide range of subjects from Ada being run over by an horse and cart as a child to facing the blitz in the Second World War.
Listening to the memories of Richard and Ada was a reminder of how things have changed to a remarkable degree over the last century. Many of their memories of their childhood related to playing outside in the street, it is difficult for people to understand today that the streets of the Island and almost everywhere were a massive playground and entertainment area. The reason why the kids played in the streets was of course there were very few cars and the only dangers were the horse and carts but they were easily seen and avoided (although Ada did have run in with one).
The street was also the source of entertainment with various traders and tradespeople coming down the street selling their wares. Richard and Ada remember the Muffin Man, organ grinders and Aunt Sallies who were men who dressed as women to sell stuff off their barrows.
Richard in particular remembered his family involvement with Millwall Football club and the First World War and the appearance of the first motor cars on the road.
It must be remembered that the early 20th century was a world that generally happened out of doors and in the streets, there was no inside entertainment like television until later in the century. People felt more part of the community because there was constant interaction with your neighbours and people would sit on their doorsteps to keep an eye on their kids and watch the world go.
A very topical subject in the interviews were telephones, Richard and Ada did not know anyone who had a telephone in their house during their childhood and finding a phone and knowing how to use it was a major undertaking if there was an emergency. Generally if you needed a doctor or a policeman quickly, you had to send someone to fetch them.
The videos are a fascinating and entertaining insight into a world long gone and illustrates how listening to memories of the older generation you can learn about what really mattered to people which often gets overlooked in history books.
Many thanks to David and Louise for sending the links, which are listed
Video one here
Video Two here
Video Three here
If you would like a copy of David’s book, visit Amazon here
© Photograph by Loren Brand
Following local photographer Loren Brand’s visual tour of the Island, we come across a piece of land by the side of Westferry Road which most people would just walk past. However, the old bollards and industrial equipment that pepper Millwall Slipway gives some indication of its importance in relation to Millwall Dock.
© Photograph by Loren Brand
The site of Millwall slipway was originally the entrance to the Millwall docks and when it opened, the Millwall Dock entrance lock was the largest lock in London, being 80ft wide with chambers 247ft and 198ft long. It was 28ft deep at high water at the centre and 23ft deep at the sides.
Millwall Docks Entrance gates in 1867, before the flooding of the docks (British History Online)
Excavation began in the summer of 1865 and work on the coffer-dam outside the entrance in early 1866. The lock was without doubt the most difficult part of the works and progress was slow. The contract for iron lock gates, sluices, capstans and related hydraulic machinery went to W. G. Armstrong & Company and the lock was completed by August 1867.
Sluices and culverts allowed water to pass between the lock and the dock or the river, or directly from the dock to the river. The massive wrought-iron gates were each 42ft 3in. wide by 34ft high and weighed approximately 60 tons. The outer gates were perforated on the river side to allow water to flow through compartments, thereby reducing the effect of impact damage.
Ordnance Survey of 1893–4 (British History Online)
Near to the Dock entrance was a series of cottages called Pierhead Cottages which were built in 1875, to provide a security presence at the Millwall Dock entrance and to accommodate dock company employees.
Pierhead Cottages in the 1920s. (British History Online)
The easternmost cottage had a top room overlooking the docks and was probably occupied by the dockmaster, while the others went to the lock foreman and dock policemen. Number 3–10 were demolished in 1954–5; the remaining four became derelict and were pulled down by the LDDC in 1986.
© Photograph by Loren Brand
The gates were originally operated by hydraulically powered windlasses but were replaced by hydraulic jiggers in 1875. In 1906 two 3-ton capstans on the inner side of the lock were replaced with direct-acting, double-headed capstans from C. A. Musker Limited, of Liverpool. In 1910 that firm supplied three more hydraulic capstans, one of which survives on the slipway.
Millwall Dock; Traffic queuing in the Westferry Road as a ship enters the Millwall entrance lock in September, 1926. Photo Albert Gravely Linney (Museum of London)
Anyone who has seen ships entering the West India docks via the Blue bridge would have some idea of the sights and sounds of ships moving through the Millwall dock entrance into the dock. ‘Bridgers’ were common and there was often a build up of traffic on Westferry Road.
© Photograph by Loren Brand
The entrance lock was badly damaged in September 1940, when bombing destroyed the middle gates, hydraulic machinery, sluices, culverts and part of the south wing wall. Reconstruction to a revised version of the pre-war plans was proposed for 1949, but the work was postponed due the cost of reconstruction and led to damming of the lock inside the Outer Dock. The dam was built in 1956 by John Mowlem & Company using precast-concrete blocks and timber taken from a temporary dam at the Royal Albert Dock. A rebuilding of the lock was considered before it was permanently closed in 1967, its east end filled in.
© Photograph by Loren Brand
The lock was left to silt up until 1988–90 when the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC), filled it as far as the outer gate recesses, leaving a slipway. The pierhead was landscaped and the hydraulic jigger from the middle-gate machinery was mounted on display.
Although the days of ships crossing into Millwall Dock are long gone, the slipway is still the scene of some excitement, one day a year when the Great River Race comes to the Island.
The organisers uses the slipway as its starting point and up to 300 small boats go into the water at this point to start their voyage down the Thames.
Millwall Slipway is a reminder that the history of the Island is there for anyone to see if you are willing to do a little bit of investigation.