Home » Human Life

Category Archives: Human Life

Hera: A Cornish Shipwreck Tragedy by Kevin Patience

One of the delights of running a website like Isle of Dogs Life is it brings you in contact with people who have their own fascinating story to tell. An example of this is the story of the Hera sailing ship that came to a tragic end in 1914.

Kevin Patience got in touch with Isle of Dogs Life earlier in the year with a query about when Hera was in the London Graving Dry Dock having repairs, unfortunately we were unable to place a date but the ship’s presence in the dock led to some curiosity about the ship and its fate. Kevin at the time mentioned he was writing a book about the Hera and when completed he kindly sent me a copy.

Kevin’s book begins by placing Hera in context of its time, when the ship that would become the Hera was launched in 1886 named Richard Wagner in Geestemunde near Bremerhaven, the age of sail was coming to an end and the age of steam ships was gaining dominance.

In 1889, the ship was bought by the Wencke Shipping Company and renamed Hera after the Greek Goddess, whilst not a goddess, the Hera was certainly an elegant four masted barque with square sails on three masts. Many sailing ships travelled the world picking up cargoes and transferred them to their destination and then picking another cargo and so on. They were the workhorses of their time and often encountered heavy seas especially around Cape Horn. The head of the Wencke Shipping Company died in 1905 and Hera was sold to Rhederei Actien Gesellschaft.

The book illustrates that many sailing ships were involved in the Nitrate trade, Sodium Nitrate or Saltpetre was discovered in Northern Chile and was used globally as a fertiliser and a prime constituent of explosives. For a time, it was a massive operation in Chile employing 300,000 people and producing four million tonnes annually.

Since her launch, the Hera travelled the world and had experienced captains and crew who had worked in many extreme conditions. As it began what was to be its final voyage, the Hera followed a well-travelled route. The Hera left Germany in 1913 before calling at Port Talbot in South Wales to pick up coal then made its way to Chile to offload the coal and pick up the nitrate. Her next port of call was due to be Falmouth before heading back to Hamburg.

The book goes into considerable detail about what happened on 31st January and 1st February 1914, approaching Falmouth the weather was rough with a gale blowing, and Captain Lorentz of the Hera was unsure as to his exact position. As night fell, the weather worsened, at about midnight the second mate reported land ahead. The Hera turned but it was too late, and the Hera struck Gull Rock, a small island. Realising the ship was sinking Lorenz ordered the firing of rockets to alert anyone on shore. The majority of the crew made it into a lifeboat, but the Hera moved and created a swell that capsized the lifeboat.

As the Hera sank deeper the crew had to climb further up the rigging, but due to the freezing cold and terrible conditions, crew began to fall off into the sea and died. Eventually the lifeboat from Falmouth came alongside the wreck of the Hera and pulled five exhausted crewmen to safety. Nineteen men died that night and their remains were buried in Veryan churchyard.

The tragedy was reported nationally and internationally, and the book includes many reports from newspapers. Many of the reports paid tribute to the Falmouth lifeboat crew and those on shore who tried to get to the ship. There were also reports that illustrate how treacherous the seas are around Cornwall and how many ships had similar tragic results. Many on shore and around Britain sent tributes to the crew in recognition of the strong bonds between those who work on ships and the realisation of the dangers they undertake.

Soon the First World War would take everyone’s attention and the Hera was consigned to history and largely forgotten.

But this is where Kevin’s part of the story begins, Kevin served in the Royal Air Force and became a member of the RAF Sub Aqua Club. He was sent to RAF St Mawgan where as Diving Officer of the local sub aqua club he helped to locate the wreck of the Hera. In 1970, Kevin wrote a piece about the Hera and interest in the ship has grown and grown and it is now one of the most popular diving sites in Cornwall.

Anyone who has written about historic events will know that facts are often distorted over time and this book not only includes Kevin’s extensive knowledge but brings together reports, photographs and historical documents to tell the fascinating story about Hera. The book never forgets the human tragedy of the ship and the foreword is written by Rita Agius who is the granddaughter of one of the survivors, Josef Cauchi.

I am sure that nobody associated with the Hera would think that over a century after her demise, she is still the topic of interest. Kevin’s book illustrates that the romance of the sailing age had a darker side with danger from the weather, the seas and rocks lurking below the water. The Hera is a reminder that even ships that conquered the dangers of Cape Horn and travelled around the world many times can come to grief in unexpected ways.

This fascinating and well researched book is available direct from Kevin at saburi@hotmail.com for £10 within UK and elsewhere at cost

The Elizabeth Line is Open in Canary Wharf

Let us go back in time to 2017, I had been to the Crossrail exhibition at the Museum of Dockland and was invited to go to look at the new Canary Wharf station for Crossrail.

With considerable excitement, I made my way down the escalators to the shiny new platforms and then peered along the tunnels.

Although the station was still being fitted out, there seemed no reason that the station would not be ready in 2018.

That early optimism was rather misplaced and here we are on the 24th May 2022 and I am making my way to the Canary Wharf station to take my first trip on the Elizabeth Line.

It is worth remembering that the new Elizabeth Line is one of the biggest changes in London infrastructure in a century. Three-and-a-half years late and at least £4bn over-budget, the Elizabeth line has finally opened. When it’s fully operational, the new rail line, will serve up to 200 million passengers each year. The line is expected to increase London’s train capacity by 10%.

The project was originally known as Crossrail has built a 73-mile (118km) railway line all across south-east England. It runs from Essex in the east to Berkshire in the west, running underground through central London. There are two western branches, which terminate at Reading and Heathrow Airport, and two eastern branches, ending at Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London.

Ten new stations have been built for the central London section, which connect Paddington, Bond Street, Liverpool St and Canary Wharf.

What you will first notice is trains are bigger, carrying up to 1,500 passengers – significantly more than a London Underground train.

They also seem quieter and more airy, although the train was not full, there seemed plenty of space.

For people that live on the Island and Canary Wharf, getting to Whitechapel is now only 5 mins away and Liverpool Street around 8 mins. The major difference is going east to west is now much easier and the once torturous trek to Paddington and Heathrow should now be much easier.

At the moment, a full service is not available yet. Initially, trains will run six days a week, every five minutes from 06:30 to 23:00 with no Sunday service. The line will operate in three parts – from Abbey Wood to Paddington, from Heathrow and Reading to Paddington, and Shenfield to Liverpool Street. Bond Street station in central London will not open until later this year, due to problems during construction. From the autumn, trains from Heathrow will no longer terminate at Paddington, and will continue on through the central section of the line. Passengers won’t be able to travel directly from one end of the line to the other until May 2023.

The new line will mean significant shorter times for many travellers. Elizabeth line fares are identical to those on London Underground. Services currently operating as TfL Rail will remain unchanged although there will be a £7.20 premium on journeys to and from Heathrow airport.

Peak single journeys to Heathrow from central London (weekdays between 06:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00) will cost £12.70 and be £2 cheaper at other times. In comparison, peak and off-peak Tube fares are currently £5.50 and £3.50 respectively, while the Heathrow Express costs £25.

Older person’s freedom passes allowing free travel, including to Heathrow and Reading, will be accepted after 09:00 on weekdays and at weekends.

At last, Crossrail or the Elizabeth Line is here and opens up plenty of options for travel in and beyond London.

A Spring walk to Mudchute Park and Farm

We have a number of traditions at Isle of Dogs Life, one of the most enjoyable is the Spring visit to Mudchute Park and Farm.

The spring flowers are blooming, the blossom is filling the trees and the birdsong is at its loudest. Although I enjoy the urban life, I do yearn occasionally for a walk through a woodland and the sound and smell of rural life.

In the Isle of Dogs, among the concrete jungle, Mudchute Park and Farm is a rural oasis on our doorstep.

Like most things on the Isle of Dogs, Mudchute Park and Farm has a fascinating history, the large open space where the Mudchute Farm and Park now stands was for centuries grazing land. However during the building of the Millwall Docks in 1865 much of this land was used for storing the bricks that were used to build the dock walls and buildings. During construction of the Millwall Docks in 1865–7 the land remained a brickfield, However after the docks opened in 1868 the land was once again used for grazing.

This changed in 1875 when The Dock company developed an innovative system of dredging its docks designed by the company’s engineer, Frederic E. Duckham. This involved the pneumatic transmission of mud, out of the dock into a pipe which ran under East Ferry Road to be deposited on the grazing land creating a mudfield. Over time the mud accumulated to create small hills and bumps, however towards the end of the 19th Century there was concerns when the mudfield was considered a health hazard and steps were taken to close the pipe which was discontinued in 1910.

Gradually the hardened mudfield became known as the Mudchute and was later used for allotments . At the beginning of the war the land was used for gun placements. Many people may be surprised when they come across a large Ack Ack Gun in the farm but this is a reminder of its former use.

After the war, various schemes were put forward for the use of the land , however it was not until 1973 that the site was transferred to the GLC to be used for housing. However, there then began a campaign by local residents and supporters called the Association of Island Communities who wished the land to be used as public open space, the success of this campaign led to the creation of an urban farm in 1977.

In 1977, the Mudchute Association was formed to preserve and develop the area which they have done by adding to the existing fauna and flora to provide a diverse environment that attracts all forms of wild life. It was somewhat ironic that the mud that had caused dismay to many people was full of nutrients that provided good growing conditions for many plants.

Farm animals have been introduced over the years to give visitors a variety of experience, there has always been an educational aspect to the Associations work and close ties have been developed with local companies, local schools and other community groups.

Spring is a wonderful time to visit the farm with spring lambs running around the field. The outer parts of the park is woodland with lots of wildlife and paths that take you all over the park.

The sheep were not the only attractions, there are Alpaca enjoying the sunshine as were the various horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, turkey, pigs and much more. 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 which runs a number of events throughout the year.

If you suffer from some the strains of urban life, why not take a wander to Mudchute and enjoy the wonderful rural surroundings of the park and farm.

The day I met a film star by Coral Rutterford

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.

A Walk around Mudchute Park and Farm

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.

Memories of the Island from Richard Jones and Ada Kay

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

Cubitt Town Library under threat of closure

One of my favourite old buildings on the ‘Island’ is the Cubitt Town Carnegie Library on Strattondale Street. Therefore it is with some concern that I have read that library is under threat from closure. As many people may know the ‘Island’ suffered greatly from bombing in the Second World War, one of the consequences of this was that many fine old buildings were damaged or destroyed.

One of the buildings that escaped that fate was the Cubitt Town Library on Strattondale Street. It is a pleasant surprise to come across the fine classical styled building amongst the post war houses  and modern developments.

cubitt 1212

The library is of national and international significance being part of a the chain of Carnegie Libraries. Carnegie Libraries were built with money donated by Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, it is estimated that 2509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929. The majority (1,689) were built-in the United States, but 660 were built-in Britain and Ireland, 125 in Canada and others in Australia, New Zealand, Serbia, the Caribbean, Mauritius and Fiji. Andrew Carnegie had humble beginnings in Dunfermline before emigrating to the United States in 1848. Carnegie over the next two decades through hard work and clever investments became a very wealthy man. Carnegie never forgot his background and looked at ways to use his wealth to help people from a poor background. With his love of books and reading, Carnegie believed that establishing public libraries was a way to encourage people to aspire to move beyond their poor backgrounds. To get local support he provided the funding to build and equip the Library and the local authority provided the land and money to maintain its operation.

Painting by Rebecca Mitchell

Cubitt Town Library was built after the Mayor of Poplar heard Carnegie speak in 1902 and soon afterwards made the application and set about raising funds. It was officially opened by well known local politician Will Crooks in 1905.


Cubitt Town library, one of the 660 in Britain and Ireland was part of a movement that developed what we consider the modern library. One of the innovations of the libraries was the idea of open stacks that encouraged people to browse and choose books for themselves.

A Poplar Guide of 1927 relates with pride “The Cubitt Town Free Library, opened in January, 1905, in Strattondale Street, is on the ‘Open Access’ system, by which means borrowers can select their own volumes from the shelves with full satisfaction to themselves and a saving of time to all concerned: the library is open from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.”

Before Carnegie libraries, in most libraries you went to the librarian at the counter and ask for books which were then retrieved from closed stacks.

It cannot be overestimated the role that libraries played in the late 19th and 20th centuries especially in poorer areas, they provided escapism and a refuge from the often harsh world outside.

Kay Everson who grew up on the Island in the 1930s remembers her visits to the library:

I loved the library and spent a lot of time there as I have always been a voracious reader and books  were a form of escapism whilst growing up. I lived in Strattondale Street so the journey to the library was easy. My one ambition at that time was to get in to the adult section to find more exciting books. My mother and my Aunt who lived upstairs in our house used to send me to get them any romance, particularly anything by Ethel M. Dell or Ruby M. Ayres.

However in the 21st century a number of Carnegie Libraries have been demolished or used for other purposes, this has led to many libraries widening their access to provide more community services. In recent times, Cubitt Town has developed a number of special and community events but this has not stopped its decline as a library.

With information available at your fingertips, one of the functions of a library has disappeared but its role as a community space is perhaps more important than ever. The isolation that many people have suffered in the pandemic reminds of the importance of community spaces that provide an opportunity to meet your old friends and get to know new friends. Libraries has always provided an important resources for local communities and Cubitt Town Library has for over a century been an oasis for many Islanders.

Tower Hamlets Council is asking for opinions about some of the proposed changes, this is an opportunity for people on the island to have their say on the library and whether they want to save this important part of Island history.

Find out more about the plans here







A Dash of Gin at Dunbar Wharf


One of the more interesting parts of the Dunbar Wharf post of a few weeks ago was that the building was used to store juniper berries for local Gin distilleries. Michael Murnior has sent a Gin advert from the Evening Standard from the early 1990s that tells us a lot more about Dunbar Wharf and its association with gin.

The advert follows master distiller, Hugh Williams as he checks on the juniper berries and other herbs and spices stored in the top of Dunbar Wharf. Hugh visited Dunbar Wharf, once a week for over 18 years to check that the ingredients were of the highest quality.

The article tells us it was not just juniper berries that were sent to the warehouse but ginger roots from China, angelica from Saxony, coriander from the Crimea plus six other herbs and spices.

The main ingredient was wild Italian juniper berries that were grown in the green fields of Umbria. The berries were harvested by the Scarponi family and were selected for their unique quality.

According to the article, Gordon’s had stored their natural ingredients at Dunbar Wharf for over 100 years. The air in the storage areas was perfect to keep the ingredients in top condition.

This article illustrates that many of the old warehouses were used to store all types of products from all over the world, anyone who visits the Museum of Docklands can enjoy the interesting smells that come from the many wooden beams.

Unfortunately, this long tradition at Dunbar Wharf came to an end in the late 1990s when the warehouse was redeveloped into apartments.

I am sure that when the residents in Dunbar Wharf opened up their gin over Christmas, they would little realise the remarkable history of the building related to Gordon’s.

Many thanks to Michael for sharing the fascinating adverts.

New Year Eve 2020 by L. Katiyo

Photo by L. Katiyo

It was a strange end to a strange year when the much reduced New Year Eve celebrations were played out in London.

Whilst I was tucked in bed with my cocoa, regular contributor L. Katiyo stood outside her back door to get some images from over the O2.

In a normal year, up to to 100,000 revellers usually gather on the banks of the River Thames for London’s New Year fireworks display but this year, the streets were virtually deserted as most people obeyed the capital’s lockdown rules.

Even on the Isle of Dogs, many people make their way to the riverfront to see the fireworks in Central London.

Photo by L. Katiyo

This year, the display spanned the length of the Thames, with fireworks launched from the O2 Arena and Tower Bridge and a light display on The Shard.

Photo by L. Katiyo

Up to 300 drones were used to “paint” the sky with tributes to NHS staff and notable figures from 2020.

Photo by L. Katiyo

Several images filled the sky – including the NHS logo.

Photo by L. Katiyo

There was a special mention for Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised £33m by walking in his back garden. The drones formed an outline of his figure.

Photo by L. Katiyo

There was a clenched-fist symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After spending many years charting the history of the Isle of Dogs, this year’s events are a reminder that history is not just in the past but is played out in the present.

Let us hope that we can return to ‘near normal’ before the end of this year and look forward to more traditional celebrations.

Many thanks to Laureen for the photographs.

Dunbar Wharf in the the 1980s

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

Around this time last year, I wrote about Dunbar Wharf in the 1920s with the assistance of Barry Ashworth and Michael Murnoir. Limekiln Dock and especially Dunbar Wharf convey some of the atmosphere of 19th century docklands industry. The original loading doors and cast iron windows of the small, early 19th century warehouses of Dunbar Wharf in Limehouse are a reminder of how much of the riverside would have looked in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

A few weeks ago, Michael got in touch and told me he had come across an old home movie of when he visited Dunbar Wharf in the 1980s. Michael was kind enough to send a copy of the home movie which shows Dunbar Wharf still used as offices and warehouses before the widespread development of the area.

No other part of London underwent a more rapid and radical redevelopment in the 1980s and early 1990s than the Isle of Dogs and Docklands. This development was a response to the decline and eventual closure of the docks. The creation of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) in 1981 and designation of the area as an Enterprise Zone led to number of initiatives including the DLR which opened in 1987.

Dunbar  Wharf 2020

Dunbar Wharf was home to one of the richest men in Britain who ran a large shipping fleet with connections all over the world. The story really begins with Duncan Dunbar senior who leaves Scotland and founded a brewery in Fore Street in Limehouse in the 1790s. His career as a brewer and wine merchant was obviously very successful because when he died in 1825 he left around £ 40,000 in his will. This wealth allowed his son Duncan Dunbar Jnr who was born in Dunbar Wharf to branch out into shipping. Young Duncan’s bought his first ship in 1827 and by 1842 his fleet stood at 11 ships, over next 20 years he ordered 42 new ships.

Even into the mid 20th century, Dunbar Wharf was used for transporting products all over the world. By the 1980s, many of the docks were closed or ready to be closed and old warehouses were being eyed up developers. In the film we can see the old warehouses across from Dunbar Wharf being pulled down to be developed.

Dunbar Wharf in this period was still being used by a number of companies under the E.W. Taylor Group who were transporting goods around the UK and the world, but it was past its glory days of the 18th and 19th centuries.

One fascinating aspect of the film is to see the area before the large development of Dundee Wharf and to see Dunbar Wharf, just before it was redeveloped as flats and apartments.

The exterior and interior gives the impression that Dunbar Wharf had changed little since the 19th century with many of the original warehouse doors and fittings still there.

Dunbar Wharf overlooks Limekiln Dock which now has a bridge across,

in the 1980s this was not the case with many of the riverside industries not allowing public access to their sites.

Dunbar Wharf occupied a much larger site than the old warehouse with considerable storage areas down to the river.

Looking over towards what is now Canary Wharf, we can see the old timber yards and pier down to the river.

The only tall buildings on the Isle of Dogs at this time are the four Barkantine  tower blocks completed in the 1970s.

The old Dunbar Wharf warehouses were often used for storage and Michael shows sacks of Juniper berries being stored high in one of the warehouses. The sacks were stored for local gin distillers for up to two years, the warehouses were chosen because they tend to be airy and were the perfect temperature for the berries.

The film offers a remarkable insight into a world that was on the cusp of changing forever. Although Dunbar Wharf is now residential, it does retain much of its character and is a reminder of the large number of riverside wharves and warehouses that have largely disappeared.

Many thanks to Michael for sharing his memories.