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History of the Thames River Postman in the Pool of London 1800 to 1952 by Clifford. L. Evans – Part Four

In the final part of the fascinating history of the Thames River Postman, there is some evidence of the interest in the Thames postman by the media and the recognition that in the 1950s that it was the ‘end of an era’ and the end of the Evans postman dynasty.

Over the years there have been many articles written in newspapers and magazines. H. L. Evans was also interviewed on 13th October 1934 on the BBC Radio program “In Town Tonight”. He was paid the sum of 2 guineas, for the telling of this unique story.

Invitation from the B.B.C. for the “In Town Tonight show”.

Photo of H.L.Evans during transmission on the B.B.C. “in Town Tonight Show

(H.L.Evans is second from the left)

Possibly the final letter delivered.

Above is a selection of pictures taken of H.L.Evans on duty in 1924

Above is a selection of pictures taken of H L Evans on duty in 1952

Tower Bridge raises it bridge as if to say goodbye dear friend.

After H. L. Evans retired, and he sold the “Alice Maud”. The boat was used later in the film “The Sword and the Rose”. During filming the boat was dropped and broke its back and was completely destroyed

Order of Service         Served

William Simpson Snr.             1800 – 1806*

William Simpson Jnr. 1806 – 1810*

Samuel Evans Snr.     1810 – 1832*

Samuel Lowden Evans Jnr.   1832 – 1845*

Samuel Evans Jnr. (son)        1845 – 1856*

George Thomas Evans (brother)       1856 – 1885*

George Henry Evans (son)    1885 – 1914*

Herbert Lionel Evans (son)     1914 – 1952*

(* These dates are as serving River Postman and do not include apprenticeships)

“During war and peace whatever the weather or state of tide the Postman and his skiff went out delivering”.

And so ends the historic Evans family dynasty of the Thames River Postmen of the Pool of London.

Written and researched by Clifford.L.Evans.

The youngest grandson of Herbert Lionel Evans.

Herbert Lionel Evans on his way home for the final time.

H.L. Evans died on 28th December  1979

The Thames Postmen played an important role connecting people who lived on the river with the rest of the world. They also became something of a local celebrity being a constant in the fast changing landscape of the river. Considering that the job was not without its dangers, it was remarkable that the Evans dynasty managed to continue for over a century.

Many thanks to Clifford Evans for sharing his family history.



The Arrival of Craft Central and the Opening of The Forge

Recently I was contacted by Debbie Levett of the Friends of Island History Trust with news that one of the
the last buildings from the great shipbuilding era of the Island has been renovated and was going to be open to the public.

The building on Westferry Road is known as the Forge, however it was used from the mid 19th century by some of the largest shipbuilding and manufacturing firms.

Following the building of the Great Eastern in the 1850s, the shipbuilder Scott Russell went bankrupt and  the famous  Millwall Iron Works were taken over by C. J. Mare & Company. The Millwall Iron Works of the 1860s was one of the largest industrial complexes ever established in Millwall, employing between 4,000 and 5,000 men. The works not only built ships but also manufactured the iron from which they were built, it was said at the time that the works were one of the most important in Europe.

The works were situated on either side of Westferry Road, linked by a horse-tramway. On the riverside were shipbuilding, wharves, sawmills, joiners’ shops, an engine factory, foundries, sail-lofts and a mast factory. On the other side of the road was located the heavy plant for iron forging including armour-plate and rolling mills for turning out bar-iron,angle-iron and armour-plate.

Like many shipbuilders, Millwall Iron Works suffered economically in the depression of the 1860s. When they went bankrupt, the buildings north of Westferry Road known as Millwall Yard and Klondyke Yard were occupied for many years by Westwoods and Maconochies. Westwoods made some alterations to the premises included building a machine shop, 155ft long, in 1939.

Former machine shop, erected in 1939 by Joseph Westwood & Company Ltd, in 1994

It is the Millwall Yard building that is now known as the Forge, the building remained in use into the 1990s and although partly rebuilt over time still retains the  C. J. Mare’s 1860 plaque and some of its original structural ironwork.

Considering it historical importance, it has gained Grade II-listing and remains one of the last buildings from the golden age of shipbuilding on the Island.

I was delighted to accept an invitation from the new tenants, the Craft Central charity to look around the building and find out about their plans for the building. Although the building is fairly unremarkable from the outside, once inside its industrial past is apparent with old gantries and ironwork dotted around the enormous space.

Craft Central promotes traditional craft industries and have paid respect to the buildings historical past by leaving much of the structure alone, yet creating exhibition space, new studios and workshops in an unusual and imaginative way.

The Craft Central charity, recently moved to the building after nearly 40 years in Clerkenwell and would like to revive the traditional crafts tradition on the Island and provide a creative working space for designers in a whole range of media. Craft Central also offer professional development support to its network of 700 designer-makers.

Another aim of Craft Central is to welcome local people into the Forge with a series of exhibitions, open studio events, workshops and markets. Studios, working spaces, rooms and exhibition space will be available to hire for meetings, talks and workshops.

The Forge will be a welcome addition to the Island and the building provides a tangible link from the craftsmanship of the past to the many designer skills of the present.

From the 19th century, the Island was famous around the world for the remarkable shipbuilding and manufacturing by a number of large firms, perhaps less well-known is that smaller concerns operated on the Island like Frederick Gerrard and his Millwall pottery who worked more in the arts and crafts tradition.

Many thanks to Debbie and Craft Central Staff.

History of the Thames River Postman in the Pool of London 1800 to 1952 by Clifford. L. Evans – Part Three

In the fascinating history 0f the Thames River Postman we learn a little more about the job and the perhaps surprising fact that the River Postman had to provide his own boat.

The Postman supplied their own boats (skiffs) and their oars (skulls) with the Post Office paying for repairs. In 1825, the Postmaster General approved a payment of £8 for providing a boat for the service.

Here is a picture of a typical Skiff at St. Katherine’s Dock, London

L. Evans had his boat built from a single Oak tree felled at Bromley, Kent. The boat was 21ft 6 ins in length, and 5ft 8 ins beam, it weighed 2 tons, and the skulls were 11ft 10 ins long and it cost £38. The skulls, skiff staff and shoe were made by G. Randall Coe and cost £1. It was sign written by W. J. Watts a Boat and Barge builder since 1828.

Copy of receipt for H.L.Evans’ Skulls    

Copy of receipt for H.L.Evans’ Skiff.  

H L Evans named his Skiff “Alice Maud”. (pictured below)

In 1916, during World War I. H. L. Evans served in the I. W. T. (Inland Water Transport) Royal Engineers, in France and Belgium. During this time his father G. H. Evans came out of retirement, to take over his duties as River Postman.

H.L.Evans in 1918, in his I.W.T. uniform.

H.L.Evans and the I.W.T. at Zebrugge 1918.

At Christmas he would send home postcards to his family.

In 1919 H.L. Evans returned from WW1, and resumed his duties as River Postman, allowing his father to go back into retirement.

His boat was moored on the Custom House jetty known as the “Harpy”. The River Postman had an official tunic, scarlet red in colour, with black velvet collar and cuffs. The sleeves were braided in black. Down the front of the tunic there were 12 brass buttons with 5 down the cuffs all embossed with the letters G.R.

He also had a Royal Arms badge made of solid silver bearing the “Arms of Hanover”. This was worn in the days of sail to protect them from the press gangs, and also acted as a warrant whilst on duty as a servant of the Crown.

        Silver Badge (6in x 4in)

(Both of these items are kept in the Post Office Archives museum London)

When H. L. Evans retired in 1952 aged 60, he was awarded the “Imperial Service Medal” on the 23rd May 1952 for 38 years of service as a River Postman. (pictured below).

H.L.Evans’ Imperial Service Medal letter

When G.H.Evans and H.L.Evans retired they received a letter of thanks from the Postmaster General of that day on behalf of the General Post Office.

G.H.Evans retirement letter 1914          

H.L.Evans retirement letter 1952

H.L.Evans was also a Freeman of “ The Company Of Watermen And Lightermen Of The River Thames. (The Certificate is Pictured Below).

Many thanks to Clifford Evans for sharing his family history.

Friends of The Island History Trust Open Day – 7th October 2017

Many people who have lived or live on the Island have taken great pride in its history, this site is one of many that delves into the Island’s fascinating past.

One of the main resources for local history on the Island in the 20th century was The Island History Trust which was created by local people in the 1980s. This was a time of great change on the Island with the closing of the docks and many of the local factories. Many on the Island thought a way of life was under threat and began to record and preserve the local history of the Island.

The Island History Trust began by collecting photographs and then started to undertake recorded interviews with elderly Islanders, other people were encouraged to write about their lives which were then added to the collection.

When the original The Island History Trust ceased in 2013, a new group formed in 2014 to take on the task of recording and sharing the History of the Isle of Dogs from the late 19th century to present day. The new group called the Friends of The Island History Trust have undertaken to collate and categorise photographic and historical data to make it more freely available to researchers and interested parties. It also aims to expand projects around the Isle of Dogs which have historical importance to the groups members or anybody that may have an interest in the islands past.

The Friends of The Island History Trust in its short life has built up a strong network with other local groups and organisations relying on its dedicated volunteers and funding provided by a growing number of friends and members to undertake projects. One of the traditions that the new group has carried on from the original Island History Trust is the popular Open Days where people can see some of the historical and photographic data and can talk with many of the volunteers who have comprehensive knowledge of the Island.

The next Open Day is on the 7th October 2017 at St John’s Community Centre at 37-43 Glengall Grove between 11.30am and 5pm.

If you would to find out more about the history of the Island, the Friends of The Island History Trust in one of the main resources and it is well worth a visit to one of the Open Days.

History of the Thames River Postman in the Pool of London 1800 to 1952 by Clifford. L. Evans – Part Two

The second part of the history looks at the beginning of the Evans family dynasty that would deliver the post on the river for the next 150 years.

Samuel Evans was apprentice to William Simpson, and after the Simpson court cases, Samuel Evans succeeded as the next River Postman and served from 1810 until 1832, thus beginning the dynasty passed down from father to son for nearly 150 years.

Samuel Lowden Evans youngest son of Samuel Evans received his indentures on 6th August 1812 and served until 1845. (pictured below)

Samuel Evans eldest son of Samuel Lowden Evans received his indentures 10th May 1832 and served from 1845 until 1856. (pictured below)

George Thomas Evans (pictured Below), brother of Samuel Evans and second son of Samuel Lowden Evans was sworn in to service on 23rd April 1845. (Breaking the tradition of father to son). He served for 29 years taking over from his brother Samuel Evans in 1856. He retired on 23rd April 1885, with a pension of £78 a year.

Below is a picture of the 3 generations Evans’s all would be serving River Postmen.

(H.L.Evans bottom middle, G.T.Evans middle row, and G.H.Evans top right)

George Thomas Evans was made a Special Constable within the Metropolitan Police District for the preservation of the public peace during the uprisings, for the period of 3 calendar months from 24th December1867. (pictured below)

George Henry Evans seen in this picture at the far left hand side sitting on the stool.He succeeded his father as a River Postman in 1885.

In this picture of G.H.Evans you may notice he is wearing a Straw Boater.

George Henry Evans’s boat was called “Jessie” named after his mother. It was a tradition of the Evans family to name their boats after their mothers.

Herbert Lionel Evans son of G H Evans received his indentures on 11th August 1908 and succeeded his father when he retired. (pictured below)

H. Evans was awarded the “Imperial Service Medal” for 29 years service as the River Postman on the 18th September 1914. (pictured below)

G.H.Evans’ Imperial Service Medal letter.

We have now covered over 100 years of the Evans dynasty which was remarkable considering the often dangerous aspect of the job. The Thames was full of ships, barges and other vessels and accidents were common, a small rowing boat offered little protection against the various dangers.

Many thanks to Clifford Evans for sharing his family history.

History of the Thames River Postman in the Pool of London 1800 to 1952 by Clifford. L. Evans – Part One

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the story of Thames River Postmen and especially about the Evans family who over generations delivered the post in the Pool of London. I was delighted to be contacted by Clifford. L. Evans who is the youngest grandson of Herbert Lionel Evans who held the title of Thames River Postman until the 1950s. Clifford has researched his distinguished family of river postman and has agreed to share his findings with Isle of Dogs Life.

Over the next few weeks, I will publish Cliff’s fascinating research into one of the most unusual postman’s rounds in London. We begin with the first River Postmen whose tenure was marred by tragedy and crime.

John Plumridge put the idea of the River Postman to the General Post Office in 1793, however at that time the proposal was turned down. The matter was raised again in 1799, and for a 3-month trial period the service began on the 10th February 1800. Due to its success the Thames River Post was born!

William Simpson became the first River Postman of the Pool of London. He was reported to have delivered and received over 26,864 letters in his first year of service. In 1806 tragedy struck, and, whilst on duty he fell into a scuttle accidentally left open on board the ship “The Good Intent”, and died as a result of his injuries.

His son also called William, who had been his fathers’ assistant, took over from him at the age of 16, and it is reported that he was his fathers’ second apprentice, the first having drowned 3 years earlier.

Whilst serving as a River Postman Simpson Jnr, stole various letters and £20 from a merchant in Whitechapel, London. This crime was a capital offence, and carried the Death penalty. He went into hiding and a Warrant poster (picture below) was circulated with a reward of £100 from the Postmaster General Francis Freeling.

He was captured at “The Swan” public house, Forest Row, East Grinstead, East Sussex, and spent his time before the trial in custody at the Newgate Prison in London. He was tried at the Old Bailey on 21st October 1810, where he was found guilty of this felony, and was condemned to the gallows. The Jury recommended that due to his age, the death sentence should be reduced. The Crown amended the sentence, and after serving 6 months in Prison he was transported to a life overseas. His name appears on the list of convicts onboard the ship “The Guilford”, which sailed from England bound for New South Wales Australia.

Newgate Prison in London

Samuel Evans was apprentice to William Simpson, and during the search and court cases Samuel Evans succeeded as the next River Postman and served from 1810 until 1832, thus beginning the dynasty passed down from father to son for nearly 150 years.

The next part will feature the beginning of the Evans family dynasty that would deliver the post on the river for the next 150 years


Remembering Wharf Road and St John’s Church

College View on Wharf Road

Regular readers will know that Eric Pemberton often sends photographs and postcards which often illustrate little known aspects of the Island. Recently he sent an interesting photograph of College View and a postcard of the interior of St John’s Church which was damaged by bombs in the Second World War and eventually demolished in the 1950s.

Wharf Road in the 1860s with College view  ( inset Island Gardens after 1937 )

College View was on Wharf Road which had been a feature on the Island from the 1850s, there was little housebuilding in this area till the 1860s when the small amount of development was quickly bought to a standstill by the depression on the Island due to financial problems of many of the shipbuilding yards. Wharf Road ran parallel with Manchester road from Ferry Street to near Pier Street.

Wharf Road 1880s with Station built.

Just off Wharf Road, three cross streets were formed: Barque Street, Ship (later Schooner) Street, and Brig Street.

In the 1880s,two rows of two storey houses with basements were put up in Wharf Road. These were No. 5–8 Wharf Road and No. 1–10 College Row were built. By this time, some of the area near Wharf Road was sold to build North Greenwich Station.

As the photograph shows, the railway cut across Wharf Road and a subway was built to allow people access.

So the question is, what happened to Wharf Road ? in 1937 it was renamed Saunders Ness Road which it remains today. As time moved on, Wharf Road has been forgotten but it is amazing that an old photograph can remind us of these little piece of Island History.

A walk down Saunders Ness Road today shows very little has survived of the past, the George Green School occupies much of the site near Island Gardens.

St John’s Church was consecrated in 1872 was designed by (Sir) A. W. Blomfield. The church was one of most active of the Island parishes where attendances at the church exceeded those at Christ Church and St Luke’s in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was estimated that the annual attendance figures for St John’s had reached 6,000. Unfortunately the church was a victim of the extensive bombing in the area in 1941 and became abandoned. Other churches on the Island lost the vast majority of its worshippers during the war and the three Island parishes were merged in 1952.

The postcard appears to be from someone associated with the church in 1904. Once again many thanks to Eric for providing such interesting information about the Island’s history.