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The ‘Fishing City’ and Other Isle of Dogs Projects

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.

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The Rise of Wood Wharf in Canary Wharf

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.

New Addition to the Memorial Area in Island Gardens

Tucked away in a lovely quiet corner of Island Gardens is the Memorial Area, The Friends of Island Gardens group have worked with the local council to create this small area within the park which is a place that people can pay their respects to the many who have sacrificed their lives.

A plaque was unveiled within the Memorial area in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of the war and to mark the centenary of the end of the war there is a new addition, a pair of First World Tommies in Silhouette. The soldiers have their rifles in reverse as a mark of respect and mourning.

Unlike many places, there are not a lot of monuments to those who died in the two world wars on the Isle of Dogs. The main reason is that the Island itself suffered from considerable damage from bombing in the Second World War and has had extensive redevelopment since the 1980s.

In recent years, various groups have placed plaques around the Island to remember various events in the past, if you walk around the Island they are usually placed near were the disaster or incident took place.

The Memorial area in Island Gardens has become a community place of remembrance at certain times of the year but especially on a date near Remembrance Sunday. This years event will be held on Friday 9th November from 10.30 am and will have four schools sending children and there will be a bugler in attendance.

Many thanks to Eric Pemberton and Friends of Island Gardens for the photographs and information.

Open House at The Forge on the Isle of Dogs – 22nd and 23rd September 2018

Last year, I had a look around The Forge which is one of the few buildings that survive from the great Victorian shipbuilding industry in Millwall.

If you would like to look inside this fascinating old building it will open during the Open House weekend on the 22nd and 23rd September 2018. Recently the Forge was turned workshops and gallery space for Craft Central.

However, many original features remain and The Friends of Island History Trust will be on hand to explain about the building and the surrounding area.

The Friends of Island History Trust have recently become a recognised charity and will show a variety of images and prints that celebrate the remarkable history of the Isle of Dogs.

Emrys who redesigned the Forge for Craft Central will be exhibiting their innovative designs, shortlisted for several awards and commended for a New London Award.

There will be a Glass at the Forge exhibition with twenty international glass & metal artists in The Gallery.

Darren Appiagyei, one of a new generation of woodturners, will be showcasing a range of his work.

There will also a Pop-up cafe available.

Getting to the Forge

Craft Central at The Forge is a five-minute walk from Mudchute DLR which connects at Canary Wharf with Bank and Stratford. The Forge is close to Masthouse Pier for Thames river bus services from Central London and Greenwich. It is also a short walk from the Greenwich foot tunnel.

The Mudchute Agricultural Show – 4th and 5th August 2018

We may be urban dwellers on the Isle of Dogs but it does not mean we cannot attend an agricultural show. The 2018 Mudchute Agricultural Show will take place on Saturday and Sunday, the 4th and 5th of August will lots of events and competitions.

Like many agricultural shows there will competitions like the Sheep Show, The Mudchute’s Agricultural Show will showcase some of the rarest and most ancient breeds of sheep in England.

The best sheep of each breed will go on to compete on Sunday in the Supreme Championship for the Best in Show title. Also on Sunday, a number of other classes for all breeds will be held, in addition to classes for City and Community Farm sheep only.

The show will welcome riders from all over the UK for their very own Equestrian Show, there will also be farrier demonstrations by Harry Morgan and a photo booth with Shetland Ponies.

There will be some bake offs with cakes, bread pudding and biscuit competitions and fresh produce will be judged.

There will be hanging baskets and vegetable boxes from Cubitt Town and George Green’s Schools, as well as entries from gardening enthusiasts from within and around London.

Games will include Stock punishment with wet sponges and Welly Throwing and you can visit stalls to find out more about the RSPB, Poetry in Wood, Woodland Trust, Friends of Island History Trust and Rare Breed Survival Trust.

In addition to the Equestrian demonstrations, there will be the following demonstrations:

Spinners – watch fleeces spun into yarn!

Bird of Prey Display from Avian Environmental Consultants

Horse Dentist – learn more about taking care of equine teeth

Farrier Demonstration – horse shoes and more with Harry Morgan

Fire Engine – learn more about the fighting fire

If that is not enough there will be Fairground Rides, International food stalls, drinks, picnic areas and donkey Rides.

Attending the show is a great way to support the amazing work of Mudchute Farm and have plenty of fun at the same time. For more information visit the Mudchute Farm website here

Love on the Isle of Dogs by Jude Cowan Montague


I was delighted to contacted recently by writer, illustrator and broadcaster Jude Cowan Montague who we featured on the website when she was writing her Young Hitch series of books about Alfred Hitchcock.

Jude’s latest work is on a more personal level and illustrates her changing personal life against the background of a changing Isle of Dogs in the 1990s.

Jude Cowan Montague lived on the Isle of Dogs with her husband in the early 1990s, it was a whirlwind romance and a very difficult time for her as she became quickly pregnant and her husband’s mental health began speedily to degenerate. The stress increased and the knock on effect for both after the separation dominated their lives for years to come.

The work is very much her story and a love story told with affection but also humour as her style is comic and tender.

The backdrop is the changing times of early 1990s Docklands. The level of construction taking place on the island at this time echoes the confusion of the relationship. The sounds and remaking of the physical world of the Isle of Dogs, the erection of Canary Wharf, the cranes embody the frustration of trying to build a family life.

Her husband was one of the participants in the self-build scheme on Westferry Road. Their house was close to Mudchute Farm, which provided a bucolic escape and a much-needed space for reflection.

In her drawings the Isle of Dogs is a ghost land, full of memories and fear as well as happiness, love and sheer dogged determination of a young pregnant woman and young mother trying to hold the world together.

Holding her domestic world together turned out to be impossible and there are some moments which are too painful to share in this tender narrative which has a wider interest for its psychological interaction with the changing landscape.

The work is still in progress. If you’re interested in keeping in touch with the project, email judemontague@outlook.com

Watching the Historic RAF 100 Flypast from the Isle of Dogs

It seems ironic that after weeks of clear blue skies, it was grey skies and low clouds on the day of the flypast of aircraft to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force.

Rather than battle the hundreds of thousands packing the Mall and Central London, I decided to join the large number of office workers who streamed out of work and made their way to Westferry Circus to get the best view of the flypast over the City of London.

The flypast began to form over Suffolk at around 12.45pm before heading towards London. It was just before one o’clock when the first aircraft appeared. The flypast consisted of 100 different aircraft of 23 different types, with 200 aircrew from 25 different RAF squadrons.

The list of aircraft included: Puma HC2, Chinook HC4, Juno H135, Jupiter H145, Dakota, Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, Prefect T1, Tucano T1, Shadow R1, Hercules C-130J, A400M Atlas, C-17 Globemaster, BAE146, Sentinel, Voyager, Rivet Joint RC-135W, E-3D Sentry, Hawk T1, Hawk T2, Tornado GR4, Lightning, Typhoon FGR4 and Red Arrows.

It was the nine helicopters led the armada before the distinctive Dakota, Lancaster, Spitfire and Lancaster.

The heavyweights followed with the Hercules and Globemaster before the Hawks, Tornado, Typhoon, Lighting and finally the Red Arrows streamed red, white and blue smoke to finish the show.

It seems remarkable that one hundred years as passed since the The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to create the RAF on 1 April 1918 to become the world’s first independent air force. Since that date, the RAF have played a major role in the nation’s defence at home and abroad.