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Anyone who walks along the riverfront near Blackwall and the Virginia Settlers Monument could be forgiven for believing the area is a bit of a backwater, however for over 400 years this was the site of great importance in British Naval history for it was in this spot that hundreds of Merchant and Royal Navy ships were repaired and built.
Blackwall’s location just before the bend of the Isle of Dogs gained its popularity as an important anchorage from which travellers embarked and disembarked from as early as the fifteenth century.
The Virginia Settlers Monument pays tribute to the Virginia Settlers who set off from this part of Blackwall in 1606, Captain Christopher Newport led the Virginia Settlement expedition with three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. On board the ships were 105 men and boys, plus 39 sailors.
They carried with them a charter from the Virginia Company to establish a settlement in the New World. They arrived in Virginia in 1607 and created a settlement called Jamestown which became the first permanent English settlement in North America.
Captain Christopher Newport was born in nearby Limehouse and amongst the settlers were Captain John Smith who is known for his association with Native American Princess Pocahontas who later visited London and passed Blackwall on her way home, unfortunately she did not make it back to America but died at Gravesend.
The Virginia Settlers Memorial has a curious history, it was initially just a plaque on the wall of Brunswick House which was unveiled in 1928.
On the plaque is a depiction of three ships and a banner with the inscription ‘Dei Gratia Virginia Condita’
From near this spot, December 19 1606, sailed with 105 “adventurers”:
The “Susan Constant” 100 tons. Capt. Christopher Newport in supreme command;
The “Godspeed” 40 tons. Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold;
The “Discovery” 20 tons. Capt. John Ratcliffe.
Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia April 26 1607.
Arrived at Jamestown Virginia May 13 1607 where these “adventurers” founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt. John Smith, Edward Maria Wingfield President of the Council, the Reverend Robert Hunt and others.
At Jamestown July 30 1619, was convened the first representative assembly in America.
Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1928 in commemoration.
In 1947, following bomb damage, Brunswick House was demolished and the quay redeveloped. The Port of London Authority used the plaque as part of a large monument, which was made up of a pile of stones from the West India Docks or East India Dock with a bronze mermaid on top. Harold Brown designed the monument and the mermaid.
Remarkably there is a British Pathe news film of the unveiling in 1951. It was a very windy day as the American ambassador unveils the memorial but is fascinating to watch here
As the docks declined, so did the memorial which was vandalised and the bronze mermaid stolen. Eventually the area around the docks began to be developed for housing and Barratt Homes moved the monument to the riverfront of their development and commissioned a mariner’s astrolabe by Wendy Taylor to replace the mermaid. The renovated memorial was unveiled in 1999 and now has a pride of place opposite the O2 entertainment complex.
The Virginia Settlers were not the only pioneers to the New World to set off from this stretch of water. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed in the Mayflower from here to North America in 1620. The Mayflower pub and a statue in Rotherhithe celebrate this particular journey.
Photo – Eric Pemberton
Last week I wrote about the Remembrance trail in Canary Wharf, this week there are a number of Remembrance events on the Island.
There is a joint exhibition which is being run by Friends of Island History Trust and Christ Church, between 11am and 3pm on Thursday 8th November at Christ Church Manchester Road, London E14
Photo – Friends of Island History Trust
The exhibition remembers the many civilians as well as service men, women and animals who were affected by the war and guests and attendees are invited to bring along any photos, memorabilia or artifact relating to WWI and the volunteers on the day will invite visitors to sign a white triangle with a dedication or thought during the exhibition, which will then be joined together as bunting and displayed at the Church.
Christ Church, consecrated in 1857 was used as a place of shelter during the First World War and is one of the most recognisable landmarks on the Island.
Photo – Eric Pemberton
The annual Remembrance event at Island Gardens organised by the Friends of Island Gardens will take place on the 9th November with children from four local schools joining members from the community from 10.30 to reflect all wars, and a bugler will play the last post and two minutes silence to be observed from 10.58 at the memorial plaque at the Eastern End of the Gardens.
St Luke’s Church in Alpha Grove will be holding an exhibition at the newly built church on Saturday 10th November, it will include actors, artifacts from war, Craft and Live music and afternoon tea between 2pm and 4.30pm and a special service, wreath laying and 2 minutes silence on the 11th starting at 10.55am and there will also be a Service of Remembrance at Christ Church and St Edmunds Church, West Ferry Road on Sunday.
Many Thanks to Debbie Levett, Secretary for Friends of Island History Trust for the information.
In the run up to Remembrance Sunday, Canary Wharf presents the 2018 Remembrance Art Trail which is an exhibition of works by artist Mark Humphrey.
The artist has created 11 pieces of art that will be displayed across the estate to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War One. Six of the artworks displayed in 2016 are on display alongside 5 new pieces including Every One Remembered, courtesy of the Royal British Legion who commissioned the work in 2014.
The works illustrate the way our perception of World War One has changed over the years, they display the sacrifice and human costs rather than the glory of the conflict. The works are inspired by the artist’s own family upbringing and explores the nature of service, sacrifice and remembrance.
1. Lost Armies, Jubilee Park – a piece remembering the fallen and those who made sacrifices for countries who have fought for the British Armed Forces.
2. Lost Soldiers, Montgomery Square – a work examining healing, remembering and forgiveness.
3. Jutland Capsule, Art Window Gallery, Canada Place – the poppy capsule floats on water, sinking beneath the waves over the shipwreck of HMS Invincible. The copper and brass memorial, full of heartfelt supporter messages, commemorates all sailors who fell at the Battle of Jutland, in the largest naval WW1 conflict.
4. Life Blossoms Again, Design Window Gallery, Canada Place – every time we see a poppy grow, we shall be reminded of an individual who made the ultimate sacrifice.
5. Brothers in Arms, Crossrail Place Roof Garden – an exhibit demonstrating human sacrifice, comradeship and remembrance for all military conflicts.
6. ANA (Army, Navy & Airforce) Triptych, Adams Plaza – using parts of military transport vehicles from the British Armed Forces, this work displays poppies in an abstract form.
7. Fallen Soldier, Cabot Square – this work remembers our servicemen and women from all conflicts.
8. Nick Beighton Part 1 (Trauma To Champion: Windows Of The Soul) Hepatych, 2017-2018, lobby, One Canada Square – a work about life’s trauma and triumphs, the resolve for resolution, searching deep into the soul, that death is not an option in the pursuit of illumination.
9. Nick Beighton Part 2 (Tragedy To Triumph: Metamorphosis Of Life) Pentatych, 2017-2018, lobbby, One Canada Square – a work demonstrating the strength overcoming disaster, finding the power to heal, rebuild and stand strong. The ability to grow, develop and emerge into something beautiful.
10. Every One Remembered, Jubilee Plaza – thousands of poppies dedicated by the public throughout the UK flutter around the soldier, paying tribute to each and every one for their sacrifices made.
11. Point of Everyman’s Land, West Wintergarden – this piece delves into war in time and space, alongside moments of battle.
Whilst the art trail is open, there will be charity pop-ups where you can make talk about their work and give donations. Charities involved include The Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, 68 Squadron and The Poppy Factory. There is also a series of Walking Tours around the Remembrance Art Trail.
The artworks provide a reminder to the many thousands who work in and visit Canary Wharf that although the First World War is a distant memory, the nation has not forgot the sacrifices made and over the next two weeks a series of events will take place in London including one on the Isle of Dogs in Island Gardens and culminating with the Remembrance Sunday event at the Cenotaph.
For more information, visit the Canary Wharf website here
Whilst enjoying the autumn sunshine, I decided to put on my walking shoes and wander around the Island to Island Gardens. Arriving at Island Gardens it seemed that the Calder Wharf development had progressed but my main aim was to enjoy the gardens.
Anytime is a great place to visit the gardens but my favourite times are spring and autumn, autumn is especially enjoyable because although most of the flowers have died away, there is often an atmospheric mist on the water that shrouds the Old Naval College, Greenwich Park and the Cutty Sark.
Island Gardens is popular with locals and visitors, you often see a tour group wandering around or people sitting enjoying the views. The park is always interesting, you can see children running around the bandstand and people taking their dogs for a walk but you can always find a spot for a little peace and quiet.
One of the most unique features of the gardens is the view across to Greenwich, this famous view is still one of the great views of London and has remained largely unspoiled for centuries.
Island Gardens were formally opened by Will Crooks in 1895, Crooks a local MP considered that the park would be ‘little paradise’ for local people. It is still a ‘little paradise’ thanks to individuals and local groups such as Friends of Island Gardens who work hard to protect the park.
Last week’s post about Wood Wharf was a reminder that the Isle of Dogs have had some remarkable transformations. However the Island has been subject of a few schemes of the last 350 years, some that came to fruition and others that were considered follies.
The peculiar nature of the Isle of Dogs which forms a horseshoe around which the Thames has led many to consider the possibility of creating a short cut at the top of the Island to cut down the time spent going around it. In the early 1570s, a scheme was considered by the City of London to construct a canal from the Thames at Limehouse Hole to the River Lea. They even bought in a Dutchman to survey the potential sites and come up with a plan, eventually nothing was done but it was an idea that did not go away.
A century later, in 1681, the engineer, Andrew Yarranton came up with a scheme for turning the Isle of Dogs into a ‘fishing city’, to provide safe berths for a shipping fleet and houses for fishermen. His plan was to build two parallel docks and a connecting channel, controlled by locks, with houses lining the quays for the fishermen and families. He also believed other businesses like the making of rope and nets could use the Island. The Fishing city never came to light but some of these ideas and the idea of a canal were part of the grand scheme to build West India Docks over a century later.
The building of the West India Docks between 1799 and 1806 changed the whole character of the Isle of Dogs with the top part of the Island effectively cut off by large walls, docks and the City Canal. Between 1800–5, the Corporation of London built the City Canal which had long been thought about but never built. The canal was 3,711ft long between the lock gates, 176ft wide at the surface of the water and 23ft deep at its centre, disaster struck in early 1805 when the coffer-dam failed, causing a great wave to rush through the canal. Extensive repairs were needed and the opening had to be delayed to late 1805.
The City Canal was not a success because the cost of going through the short cut was not really worthwhile. Eventually the West India Dock company bought the canal in 1829 and turned it into the South Dock. This was not the end of the docks expansion with the heart of Island turned into Millwall Dock in the 1860s.
Despite the success of the docks, Philip Revell developed a plan of the 1870s to clear the whole Island and build an island fortress for the defence of London. It was not taken that seriously but was an interesting idea with what seemed to be locks on the Thames.
Even as recently as the 1930s, people were looking at reintroducing a passageway through the Island, a newspaper report gives more details.
An ingenious scheme for shortening the course of the Thames in London by about two and a half miles and converting the Isle of Dogs into a vast docks is advocated by Mr. H. Bragg, L.R.I.B.A., in the current issue of Modern Building Construction (says the London “Daily Chronicle”).
Mr Bragg proposes that the present U-shaped course of the river encircling the Isle of Dogs should be “cut out,”, and that a straight cut be constructed across the north part of the isle between Bugsby’s Reach and the Lower Pool. This could be done, he suggests, by widening the present West India Import Dock and extending it to the river both east and west.
Mr Bragg’s other proposals are:— Five new docks to be built on the Isle of Dogs, A river wall to be constructed along the south bank of the river from Lower Pool to the east end of Greenwich Reach and then across the present land to the river west of Woolwich Reach. Mr Bragg proposes that the ground between the new docks should be utilised not only as wharfage and warehousing space, but also for the erection of dwellings for dock workers with attractive gardens and children’s playgrounds.
Mr Bragg’s ideas were not taken up but this is one of the lessons of these types of schemes it is very difficult to know which will be a success and which will be a disaster. The ideas to turn West India Dock into a financial district and the creation of City Airport were not taken seriously at first.
Over the last few years, we have kept a close eye on many of the developments taking place on the Island and Canary Wharf. One of the largest developments has been Wood Wharf which is considered one of the most ambitious urban regeneration projects in London.
Unlike the main part of Canary Wharf, Wood Wharf is being developed into a 23 acre site with 5m sq. ft of mixed use space. Built on the former docks site, it is envisaged that Wood Wharf will have one of the largest clusters of tech and creative businesses in the UK. Canary Wharf Group are hoping that this Hi Tech hub will bring 20,000 jobs to the region, generate £2bn gross value from new jobs and £199m into the local small business economy.
Canary Wharf Group have produced some computer generated impressions of the finished site that offer a view of Canary Wharf which will probably the final stage of large development in the near future.
The site will have open spaces, waterside walkways, running trails and more retail areas and will be designed to high sustainability standards. The development will be targeting zero-carbon and zero-waste and is being built to have a positive social impact on the local area and communities. 25 per cent of the 3,600 residential homes will be affordable housing.
Although the new development does not directly impinge on the Isle of Dogs, indirectly it will have a knock on affect will more people living and working in the area. The top of the Island has seen unprecedented amounts of development in recent years and that development is slowly encroaching towards the bottom. It is likely that the development of Wood Wharf will accelerate that process even further.
The 1980s and 1990s saw the development of one of the largest business districts in Europe, that development was not necessarily welcomed by many Island residents. However in last 30 years, the Island has changed considerably and many will view the Wood Wharf development as more of an extension of the Canary Wharf footprint. Lots of Islanders use Canary Wharf for shopping, attending the various events and the transport system and of course, many residents work on the Canary Wharf estate.
In the 1800, the Isle of Dogs was largely inhabited before the coming of the Docks, after the rise and fall of the docks, we now have the rise of Canary Wharf. So the only real constant for the Island is change but there are few areas in London that have been the site of so many large global concerns in a relatively short time.