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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.

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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.

A Spring Stroll to Mudchute Park and Farm

It is that time of the year when 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.

To get my rural fix, I do not have to travel to far because we have Mudchute Park and Farm 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 Alpaca were 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.

ISLAND WOMEN: Experiences, Challenges, Impact at St John’s Community Centre – 9th March 2019

As part of International Women’s Week, the Friends of Island History Trust will host an exhibition which will be looking at the significant contribution of women living, volunteering and working on the Isle of Dogs from the 20th Century onwards.

The exhibition includes a screening of a short film entitled Island Girl, by the female students of George Green School and an exhibition of images of ‘Island Women’ by Designer Anna Lincoln and will include a presentation by FoIHT on the life of Nellie Cressall, one time Island resident and former Mayor and Councillor for Poplar. During the afternoon attendees will also be invited to reflect on and consider how the Equality Act and recent campaigns have impacted on ordinary women today and how further changes can be achieved.

The afternoon will start off with a fitness session in the main hall with Zumba for ladies 18 and over from 1.15 until 2.15, at the same time the presentation on the remarkable Nellie Cressall will take place in the history room.

There will be stalls run by local groups and refreshments and time to reflect on the event which will be rounded off at 4’oclock by centre user group TANGO E14 with a demonstration of Argentinian Tango

Invited participants include One Housing, George Green School, Tower Hamlets Sports Development and TANGO E14 and Exhibition Designer Anna Lincoln and local photographer Ioana Marinca

St John’s Community Centre,
37-43 Glengall Road E14 3NE
Saturday 9th March 1pm-5pm

Everyone is welcome.

The Virginia Settlers Monument in Blackwall

Anyone who walks along the riverfront near Blackwall and the Virginia Settlers Monument could be forgiven for believing the area is a bit of a backwater, however for over 400 years this was the site of great importance in British Naval history for it was in this spot that hundreds of Merchant and Royal Navy ships were repaired and built.

Blackwall’s location just before the bend of the Isle of Dogs gained its popularity as an important anchorage from which travellers embarked and disembarked from as early as the fifteenth century.

The Virginia Settlers Monument pays tribute to the Virginia Settlers who set off from this part of Blackwall in 1606, Captain Christopher Newport led the Virginia Settlement expedition with three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. On board the ships were 105 men and boys, plus 39 sailors.

They carried with them a charter from the Virginia Company to establish a settlement in the New World. They arrived in Virginia in 1607 and created a settlement called Jamestown which became the first permanent English settlement in North America.

Captain Christopher Newport was born in nearby Limehouse and amongst the settlers were Captain John Smith who is known for his association with Native American Princess Pocahontas who later visited London and passed Blackwall on her way home, unfortunately she did not make it back to America but died at Gravesend.

The Virginia Settlers Memorial has a curious history, it was initially just a plaque on the wall of Brunswick House which was unveiled in 1928.

On the plaque is a depiction of three ships and a banner with the inscription ‘Dei Gratia Virginia Condita’
From near this spot, December 19 1606, sailed with 105 “adventurers”:
The “Susan Constant” 100 tons. Capt. Christopher Newport in supreme command;
The “Godspeed” 40 tons. Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold;
The “Discovery” 20 tons. Capt. John Ratcliffe.
Landed at Cape Henry, Virginia April 26 1607.

Arrived at Jamestown Virginia May 13 1607 where these “adventurers” founded the first permanent English colony in America under the leadership of the intrepid Capt. John Smith, Edward Maria Wingfield President of the Council, the Reverend Robert Hunt and others.
At Jamestown July 30 1619, was convened the first representative assembly in America.
Erected by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1928 in commemoration.

In 1947, following bomb damage, Brunswick House was demolished and the quay redeveloped. The Port of London Authority used the plaque as part of a large monument, which was made up of a pile of stones from the West India Docks or East India Dock with a bronze mermaid on top. Harold Brown designed the monument and the mermaid.

Remarkably there is a British Pathe news film of the unveiling in 1951. It was a very windy day as the American ambassador unveils the memorial but is fascinating to watch here

As the docks declined, so did the memorial which was vandalised and the bronze mermaid stolen. Eventually the area around the docks began to be developed for housing and Barratt Homes moved the monument to the riverfront of their development and commissioned a mariner’s astrolabe by Wendy Taylor to replace the mermaid. The renovated memorial was unveiled in 1999 and now has a pride of place opposite the O2 entertainment complex.

The Virginia Settlers were not the only pioneers to the New World to set off from this stretch of water. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed in the Mayflower from here to North America in 1620. The Mayflower pub and a statue in Rotherhithe celebrate this particular journey.


A Flying Visit to Antarctica by Coral Rutterford

Photo – Joe Mastroianni, National Science Foundation – From Antarctic Photo Library

After last week’s post about the Terra Nova and Captain Scott’s expedition, I was contacted by regular contributor Coral Rutterford who I was fortunate to meet last year when I visited Coral’s hometown Auckland. Coral has lived in New Zealand since the 1960s, however her early life was spent in Poplar and Shadwell.

Captain Scott and the Terra Nova visited New Zealand before moving onto Antarctica, in the decades after the failed Scott expedition, very few people other than scientists and explorers visited the icy wastes of Antarctica.

Remarkably, Coral in the late 1970s had a rare opportunity to fly over Antarctica with one of the most famous mountaineers in the world. Coral takes up the story which begins with a strange request from her husband.

In 1979 my husband asked me to withdraw NZ$380 ​about 190 pounds from the bank and told me to not ask why he needed it, a strange request, but I did as he requested and over time I had forgotten about it.

Then later, on November 13th. after arriving home from work he said we are going out for a meal tonight, this was unexpected and off we went to an Auckland city hotel. After the meal he gave me an envelope and said “open it”, it was an Air New Zealand ticket, with my eyes watering I couldn’t read it properly. It was a ticket to go on a flight over Antarctic on the following morning November 14. I had often said I would love to do that, it was only in November when weather conditions allowed. Four flights were planned over the month.

Sir Edmund Hillary – 1970s

I then attended a pre flight briefing at the hotel presented by Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who was the first man to climb to the summit of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay. Sir Edmund spent a lot of time in Antarctica and gave a presentation and commentary on what to expect to see and saw film of him on the ice driving Ferguson tractors etc.

Air New Zealand McDonnell Douglas DC-10 1977

My husband drove me over to Auckland International Airport next morning Nov 14th where I boarded flight 901 on an Air New Zealand DC10. There was some 275 or so passengers including a group of Japanese visitors. One lady in their group had a birthday and a cake was produced and we all had a piece and sang “Happy Birthday to you” I doubt she understood a word but she bowed and put her hands together as a thank you gesture.

We flew over the South Island and Stewart Island of New Zealand and on towards the ice. As we flew on we encountered a lot of cloud and were told to expect this and indeed when arriving at NZ/Scott Base and U.S/McMurdo Base the cloud may well be there too and not see anything, what a disappointment that would be but we hoped all will be good. A champagne breakfast was served, a nice way to start the day. Hopefully other good things would present themselves.

Scott base – Photograph by Andrew Mandemaker

As we arrived over the ice the cloud disappeared and the sun shone. What a breath-taking sight to behold. As we flew over Scott Base we saw the flight ground path for the Starlifter, a giant plane that delivers personnel and equipment and other supplies to both the NZ and McMurdo base which has USA personnel. A huge X-shaped polished area on the ice was clearly seen, the cross formation is to accommodate plane take off and landings based on the wind patterns of the day.

Starlifter and penguins by SMSgt Bob Pederson – Wikipedia

Ahead of us was Mt Erebus, at 13,200 ft high, covered in snow, the sun glistening and a white plume of steam escaping at its top. What a beautiful sight, we flew lower and saw the volcano closely. We had a closer look at the two sites of Scott Base and Mc Murdo. All supplies to these bases are flown out of Christchurch in our South Island.

Mt Erebus, Antarctica

Delicious lunch was served as we approached and the desert was a meringue with a juice spilling from its top to resemble the active volcano. and was called Peach Erebus. We flew around this area for just over a half hour and we were advised of the times and points of interest as the flight progressed. At this point we made our return flight back to Auckland, ending our 13 hour adventure.


The Ross Sea, Antarctica. Photograph 3 News, New Zealand

How could we not forget the sheer beauty of this ice and snow-covered wilderness. The Ross Sea with chunks of ice floating in the water looking like soap flakes from above but would be so much bigger in close up view with aquamarine coloured ice walls beside it.

As we flew over the tall ice mountains we noticed these towering walls were deep mauve or green with craters of water on their tops of mauve, turquoise and green that looked like jewels in a ring setting.

Some have remarked why go there just to see snow, it is surprising just how much colour there is. It was a happy flight. We were allowed to leave our seats and look out of windows all around the cabin, Sir Edmund posed with passengers for photo shoots. He was such a big friendly man and a great sense of humour. He quite happily posed with passengers as cameras clicked.

How much I enjoyed my surprise gift of this flight. There were 4 flights planned during the month of November, one a week and I was on week 2. November 14 1979.

The following week 3, the flight of the month took place and had as its commentator and a mountaineer and close friend of Sir Edmund was Peter Mulgrew. That evening as we watched television, breaking news of the worst kind interrupted the programme to announce that flight was missing and no contact had been made.

Initially Peter Mulgrew was to be on flight 2 and would have been our commentator but was unable to be available that day and he swapped places with Edmund Hillary who was booked on flight 3. Most fortunate for Edmund but so deadly unfortunate for Peter.

Flight 3 as it arrived over the area, in thick cloud cover, had smashed into Mt Erebus, all lives were lost. The pilot Capt. Simpson on my flight had noticed the co-ordinates were incorrect and had the mountain location directly in front of the planes path. This was reported to the authorities but the co-ordinates were never corrected for the next flight. Pilot error was decided the cause but years later he was exonerated. No further flights from New Zealand have been made.

I am sure when Coral was growing up in the backstreets of Poplar and Shadwell, she would not have believed that she would see Antarctica with Edmund Hillary but life often sends us on adventures. Although Coral left these shores many years ago she remains fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of her birthplace and we thank her for her contributions.