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Electric Power in the Isle of Dogs

Many people may be aware of Elon Musk and his electric storage batteries but people may be surprised that this technology has been around for a century and the Isle of Dogs played an important in its development.
At the end of the 19th century, the Electrical Power Storage Company took over the Sun Iron Works which was just off Westferry Road. E.P.S., as it was known, was set up to using patents concerning batteries and accumulators. In 1882, the Electrical Power Storage Company, with about 300 employees, began producing accumulators at the Millwall works. The company also had offices in Great Winchester Street in the City of London.
The early accumulators were supplied to hotels, Law Courts, the Bank of England, Lloyd’s and many theatres. The Millwall works also supplied temporary lighting for functions especially during the London Season, they had a number of royal clients, including Queen Victoria. There was also experiments for a battery-powered tramcars.
One of the more interesting experiments was electric powered boats, a newspaper report of 1882 gives more details.

An  Electric  Launch

Professor Sylvanus P. Thompson writes to The Times :-” Having been one of a privileged party of four, the first over propelled upon the waters of the River Thames by the motive power of electricity, I think some details of this latest departure in the applications of electric science may be of interest.

At half-past 3 this afternoon I found myself on board the little vessel Electricity, lying at her mooring off the wharf of the works of the Electrical Power Storage Co. at Millwall. Save for the absence  of steam and steam machinery the little craft would have been appropriately called a steam launch. She is 26ft. in length, and about 5ft, in the beam, drawing about 2ft. of water, and fitted with a 22inch propeller screw. On board were stowed away, under the flooring and seats,fore-and-aft, 45 mysterious boxes, each about of about 10in. in dimensions. These boxes were nothing else than electric accumulators of the latest type, as devised by Messrs. Sellon and Volokmar, being a modification of the well-known Plante accumulator. Fully charged with electricity by wires leading from the dynamos or generators in the wonks, they were calculated to supply power for six hours at the rate of 4h.p. These storage cells were placed in electrical connection with two Siemens’ dynamos of the size known as D 3,furnished with proper reversing gear and regulators,to serve as engines to drive the screw propeller.

Either or both of these motors could be ‘switched ‘ into circuit at will. In charge of the electric engines was Mr. Gustave Phillipart, jun., who has been associated with Mr. Volokmar io the fitting up of the electric launch. Mr, Volokmar himself and an engineer completed, with the writer, the quartet who made the trial trip. After a few minutes’ rundown the river, and a trial of the powers of the boat to go forward, slacken, or go astern at will, her head was turned Citywards, and we sped- I cannot say steamed-silently along the southern shore, running about eight knots an hour against the tide. At 37 minutes past 4 London Bridge was reached, where the head of the launch was put about, while a long line of onlookers from the parapets surveyed the strange craft that without steam or visible power-without even a visible steersman-made its way against wind and tide.

Slipping down the ebb, the wharf at Millwall was gained at one minute past 5, thus is 24 minutes terminating the trial trip of the Electricity, For the benefit of electricians I may add that the total electromotive force of the accumulators was 96 volts, and that during the whole of the long run the current through each machine was steadily maintained at 24 amperes. Calculations show that this corresponds to an expenditure of electric energy of 31.11 horse power.

It is now 43years since the Russian Jacobi first propelled a boat upon  the waters of the Neva by aid of a large but primitive electro-magnetic engine, worked by galvanic batteries of the old type, wherein zinc plates were dissolved in acid. Two years ago a  little model boat was shown in Paris by M. Trouvé, actuated by accumulators of the Fauro-Plaute type. The present is, however, not only the first electric boat that has been constructed in this country, but the very first in which the electric propulsion of a boat has been undertaken on a commercial scale. Looking at this first practical success, who shall say to what proportions  this latest application may not attain in the next decade?”

Two years later a race took place between Electricity and the electric launch Australia from Millwall to Charing Cross Bridge and back to Greenwich.

The author of the news report was Silvanus Phillips Thompson was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1891.

After the successful experiments with electric launches, charging stations were set up along the Thames and from 1888, over 50 British boatbuilders are known to have built one or more electric launches. Many of these were made near the Thames in Isle of Dogs and Blackwall yards.
In 1914–15 the EPS company amalgamated with Pritchetts & Gold Ltd of Dagenham Dock and all the Millwall plant went to Dagenham. The former E.P.S. works were occupied for a few years by the Cunard Steamship Company, as Cunard Wharf for storing cargo.
After this promising start to the ‘electric age’, the 20th century saw a decline of this ‘clean’ energy in favour of the improved diesel engines.
However since the 1970s, electric energy in cars and boats has become more popular to help create a more environmentally friendly world.




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


The Mudchute Agricultural Show 2019 – 29th and 30th June

Get away from the urban jungle and get a taste of the countryside with the Mudchute Agricultural Show 2019. The show takes place over two days and allows city dwellers to enjoy some of the delights of country life.

Mudchute will welcome rare breed sheep from London’s City Farms and beyond for two days of livestock shows, with categories such as best young handlers, primitive sheep and best lambs.

Test your baking and culinary skills by entering the fresh produce competitions which will take place on Saturday with cakes and bakes as well as jams, chutneys and more. For those whose passion is growing, the hanging baskets and vegetable box competitions are not to be missed. Community participation is encouraged and free registrations are open from 10am on the day.

Fleece spinners, wood workers and willow weavers will demonstrate their crafts and local market stall holders will sell their creations. There will be a Shetland pony photo booth and raffle with proceeds going directly towards the upkeep of the Mudchute Park & Farm.

Visitors are encouraged to bring their own picnic or enjoy a meal at Mudchute Café, Ruby Red tea caddy or the food truck.

MasterChef semi-finalist Annie McKenzie and team will close the day bringing food and theatre together in a production of The Wind in the Willows, an immersive dining experience like no other (book tickets ahead).

Mudchute Park & 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, with a working farm, stables and a wide range of education activities.

Mudchute Agricultural Show 2019 takes place on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th of June between 11am – 4pm

Lower Field, Mudchute Park and Farm, Isle of Dogs ,London E14 3HP

Entry is Free

For more information, visit the Mudchute Park and Farm website here

The Changing Face of Canary Wharf – June 2019

Each year, I try to keep readers up to date with some of the latest building developments on the Island and Canary Wharf.  It has been a time when the various developments have progressed quickly and the new Canary Wharf skyline is beginning to take shape.

Whilst there are some major developments on the Island, most of the larger developments are around Millwall Dock, Marsh Wall and especially overlooking the South Dock around South Quay and the developments in Canary Wharf are taking place in the east and west fringes of the estate. Two major schemes are under development, Wood Wharf and the Newfoundland development.

Both developments have made considerable progress with the buildings steadily moving upwards, the Wood Wharf site in particular is taking shape with its distinct residential tower climbing higher  and other buildings in various states of development.

When completed the Wood Wharf site 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.

At the other side of the Island, the 58-storey residential tower on the Newfoundland site is now well into construction with glass facades nearly completed.

If you think this will be tall, it will be dwarfed by the new development over the road from the Newfoundland site, it is based on the old City Arms site and is called the Landmark Pinnacle which will have 75 levels which the developers claim will be London’s largest residential tower. This will eventually be part of the Landmark complex which is situated near the site.

Along Marsh Wall are the beginnings of the Wardian towers, there will be two blocks at South Quay Plaza, Galliard are building more towers which will be part of Millharbour Village and finally there is the Madison scheme is progressing well.

It is remarkable that except for complaining about the various road and path closures and the disruption of lorries delivering materials, most people take very little notice of the various developments until they are completed.

It is worth noting that this is one of the biggest developments in the United Kingdom since Canary Wharf was built. Because most of the development has been concentrated at the top of the Island, there has not been widespread criticism, although many questions are being asked about coping with the increased population and the increase in workers coming into Canary Wharf to work.  In the next few years, it is expected the population of the Isle of Dogs will be double that of 2011. The delay to Crossrail is not likely to impact too much due to the buildings state of development in not anywhere near completion.

The history of the Isle of Dogs has been about change, however in the next decade; the whole skyline of the Isle of Dogs will change dramatically. It is part of the process that started with the building of Canary Wharf skyscrapers that seemed to change London’s attitude to tall buildings forever.

Secret Rivers at the Museum of London Docklands – 24 May to 27 October 2019

The Museum of London Docklands has many permanent displays but throughout the year puts on temporary exhibitions on particular themes. The latest exhibition is due to open on the 24th May and is called Secret Rivers and I managed to have a preview before it officially opens.

Whilst the River Thames is famous around the world and played a pivotal role in the development of London, little is known about the other waterways that flowed in the capital. The exhibition explores a number of these rivers and streams and finds out why they have mostly disappeared.

The exhibition begins by looking at some of the ‘Secrets of the Thames’, one of these grisly secrets is over 250 Bronze Age human skeletal remains that were found in Mortlake. Little is known how and why they died and why they ended up in that particular location.

The Sacred Rivers section includes artefacts from Roman Londinium found in the Walbrook River, during archaeological excavations lots of metal working and other industrial activity was found.

The River Fleet which was considered London’s most important river after the Thames and was known for centuries for being clogged up with filth and debris. A painting called Entrance to the River Fleet by Samuel Scott make the Thames and Fleet look more like Venice than London. One of the more amusing finds from the Fleet is a medieval oak triple toilet seat from the mid 12th century. Although a bit primitive it was actually quite high status and was for private use in a building in Fleet Street.

The various rivers and streams were used for a variety of reasons, like washing, transport, dumping waste from a number of industries and rather strangely for entertainment. When the River Westbourne was blocked in Hyde Park it created the Serpentine Lake which often froze in the winter. A sketch by Thomas Rowlandson shows people falling about on the ice.

More seriously, water was often the cause of many nasty diseases, Jacob’s Island near Bermondsey was a notorious slum over swampy and muddy conditions The area was made famous by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist.

It was in response to the ‘Great Stink’ and disease that large scale sewerage works in the 19th century were undertaken by Joseph Bazalgette. During the construction of the London sewerage system, many of the rivers and streams were covered and used as part of the sewers. An excellent film gives more details about the enormous construction costs involved in this enterprise that would save thousands of lives.

Despite many of the rivers being covered, the names often carried on and became local areas. The rivers Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn, Walbrook and Westbourne began to intrigue various people in the 1990s and ideas were put forward to bring them back out in the open. This was known as ‘Daylighting’ which started off as a joke but began to be taken more seriously.

The old rivers have a bit of a revival in popular culture with a number of modern books that reference the old waterways.

The exhibition tells the largely unknown story of London’s lost rivers and streams and has a large number of fascinating pieces of information and artefacts. Being surrounded on three sides by the River Thames, the Isle of Dogs has a special relationship with the river. No doubt people had special affinities with these other rivers before they were used and abused. This exhibition is a reminder that over time things usually change for the better and even the Thames is cleaner than it has been for centuries.

Race Day : The London Marathon 2019 on the Isle of Dogs – 28th April 2019

The Isle of Dogs is thrust into the national and international spotlight once a year with the arrival of the London Marathon. In the week before the race, the roads are repaired, new hoardings appear on the roadside and metal barriers arrive to be placed along the route.

On the morning of the race, volunteers and charities take their spots along the route in eager anticipation of yet another carnival of running. From around 9am, people begin to take their positions along the route, the grey skies and cold wind ensured  that many of the spectators were well wrapped up . The spectators on the west of the Island have the benefit of watching the runners going down Westferry Road and returning via Marsh Wall before the runners head into Canary Wharf.

The elite wheelchair races are the first to start and finish and they raced around the Island at great speed, American Daniel Romanchuk won the men’s wheelchair race with Switzerland’s Marcel Hug second and Japan’s Tomoki Suzuki third.

Switzerland’s Manuela Schar easily won the women’s wheelchair race ahead of four-time winner Tatyana McFadden and last year’s champion Madison de Rozario.

Kenyan Brigid Kosgei, 25, became the youngest female London winner with last years winner Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot second, Ethiopia’s Roza Dereje of Ethiopia third and Great Britain’s Charlotte Purdue finished a creditable tenth place.

The men’s race was another win for Kenya with Eliud Kipchoge, Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew and Mule Wasihun finished second and third. Britain’s Mo Farah finished fifth and Callum Hawkins tenth.

After the elite races, the crowds on the Island get bigger with family and friends of the runners of the mass race taking their places along the route, other spectators come out in large numbers to offer support to the runners who face their own particular challenges, it is the mix of serious runners, celebrities, fancy dress runners and fun runners make the marathon the great success it is.

Many of the runners run for their favourite charity and since 1981, the amount raised by the London Marathon has now passed £1bn.

Eventually the large mass of runners dwindle down to smaller groups and spectators begin to drift away, the noise and excitement of the big day is replaced by quietness with the occasional lorry appearing on the course to take down various structures and the cleaning department picking up the tons of litter.

Congratulations to all those who took part and all the volunteers who make the London Marathon, the special event it is.

A Guide to the London Marathon 2019 on the Isle of Dogs

It is safe to say that although Canary Wharf is often in the news, the rest of the Isle of Dogs is seldom the focus of national and international interest. However this always changes on the day of the London Marathon when the normally quiet streets are filled by thousands of runners and thousands of spectators.

The race tends to attract the world’s greatest men and women marathon runners and this year is no exception.

Daniel Wanjiru leads some of the greatest distance runners ever, Olympic gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge will be on the start line alongside Britain’s multiple world and Olympic track champion Mo Farah. Other runners include Wilson Kipsang, Mosinet Geremew, Leul Gebresilasie, Tamirat Tola, Mule Wasihun and Tola Shura Kitata British runners include Callum Hawkins, Tsegai Tewelde, Jonny Mellor and Dewi Griffiths.

The women’s elite race is just as competitive, with Mary Keitany, Birhane Dibaba, Gladys Cherono, Vivian Cheruiyot, Brigid Kosgei, Roza Dereje and Haftamnesh Tesfay. Charlotte Purdue, Tracy Barlow and Lily Partridge will be the main British hopes.

This year’s London Marathon will host the 2019 World Para Athletics world championship marathon races, it includes five races for para athletes – three for ambulant runners and two for wheelchair racers. As well as winning World Championship medals, athletes in these races can also earn places on their nation’s teams for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The top four athletes in each medal event will win a place at Tokyo 2020.

British defending champion in the men’s T54 wheelchair race, David Weir pushes for his ninth London title against Marcel Hug and Daniel Romanchuk. Manuel Schär is the woman to beat in the women’s race with London champion Madison de Rozario and world champion Tatyana McFadden.

However, for many people the race is a personal challenge and an opportunity to raise considerable amounts for their particular charities. The large number of fancy dress runners add to the carnival aspect of the race.

Due to the fact that many people may be unfamiliar with the Isle of Dogs I thought I would do a mini guide to the Isle of Dogs.

The race enters the Island at Mile 15 when it comes onto Westferry Road , this is a long road down the side of the west side of the Island. Lots of shops and a few pubs here and most of the spectators will be locals.

Just before Mile 16 you will pass the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre which leads into the Millwall Docks and is often filled with small yachts overlooked by the old cranes standing next to the dock.

The sweep around the bottom of the Island takes you near Island Gardens which has wonderful views of Greenwich and the river. Here is also the entrance and exit of the Greenwich foot tunnel.

Going up the East Ferry Road to mile 17 you will see the greenery of Millwall Park on the right and the Mudchute DLR on the left.

Just past Mudchute DLR you will see the entrance to Mudchute Farm and Park, one of the biggest inner city farms in Europe.

A little further on you have Asda on the right and Crossharbour DLR on the left, then the route takes you further up to Limeharbour adjacent to Millwall Dock and then onto Marsh Wall.

A short run down along Marsh Wall to South Quay DLR, is followed by a run past the International Hotel and Novotel to mile 18, there is a quick switchback into the Canary Wharf estate for Mile 19.

Canary Wharf has become a popular watching base for many spectators due to its proximity to the transport system and over 200 shops, bars and restaurants.

The race then goes out to Poplar and Limehouse to begin the long stretch home.

Some of the benefits of watching the Marathon on the Isle of Dogs is that you can actually watch in comfort rather than being part of the massive crowds in Greenwich and Tower Bridge. You also have easy access to the transport system and access to many pubs, bars and restaurants. To make sure you do not miss any excitement, here is the time guide.

Good luck to everyone taking part in the race and everyone who contributes to one of London’s greatest sporting events.