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In a previous post about Alfred Hitchcock, I wrote about his formative years when he moved to Limehouse.
The Hitchcock’s moved from Leytonstone to 175 Salmon Lane in Limehouse and opened a shop selling fresh fish, before Alfred’s father purchased 130 Salmon Lane and opened it as a fish and chip shop.
One of the problems of looking at Hitchcock’s childhood is to separate fact and fiction because later in life Hitchcock would tell stories about his childhood which were often fanciful and exaggerated.
This blurring of fact and fiction about Hitchcock’s life has fascinated many writers, but very few have used Hitchcock’s early life to write fiction. One writer who has decided to write about the young Alfred Hitchcock is Jude Cowan Montague with her soon to be realised Young Hitch series.
Jude has considerable knowledge of the Salmon Lane area after living there in the 1980s. As Jude relates the area was very different in that time.
When I lived nearby in the late 1980s I squatted in an old council block which has now been demolished, so I have my own sentimental connection with times gone by. It was quite run down in those days, but the development of the docks on the Isle of Dogs was already in progress.
Recently Jude revisited the area to get inspiration for the new books and understanding that Limehouse has always been an interesting mix of old and new. Although the Young Hitch series are a work of fiction they do use real-life history, newspapers and first-hand accounts for historical accuracy.
Hitchcock was famous for observing life and trying to found out what made people tick, there is no doubt that Hitchcock would have been have been aware of an East End around him that was in turmoil. Industrial strikes, Women’s suffrage , anarchism and general unrest were commonplace, if this was not enough the start of the First World War saw Zeppelin bombing raids.
Hitchcock was also fascinated with murders, he was fascinated by Jack the Ripper and the cases of Dr Crippen and Adelaide Bartlett. Hitchcock’s formative years were probably vital for developing his famous macabre sense of humour.
Jude taps into Hitchcock’s unique take on the world around him in the Young Hitch books which the following excerpt illustrates
Sitting in the red plush seats of the Picture Palace, Alfred Hitchcock, eleven years old and eager to grow up, shook as a snake of fear rose from his toes, wriggled through his socks and slid up his sweaty legs.
On the wide screen in front the hero squeezed through a hole and made off for the horizon. He looked back and laughing, in what Alf thought was in a rather superior manner. There was a smug and distasteful manner revealed by the close-up.
The bereft villain shook his fist, silhouetted against the sky. His victim had got away.
‘Curses!’ Alf mouthed, twirling an invisible moustache.
Baron von Bingsten was not acting in his best interests by drawing attention with his gyrating gurning gymnastics. But then Alf had never met a real baron. Perhaps all nobs, as his father called them, had over-dramatic movements. But he doubted it. He couldn’t test his theory. Grocers’ sons didn’t have the opportunity to mingle with the nobility. If only his Da had a title. Lord Leytonstone? Could be? It seemed you had to be an aristocrat to have a real adventure, if you went by the stories he read.
If his father really thought about Alf’s needs, and wanted to give him all the best advantages in life, he would get himself a title. But despite the lip-service, parents did not think of their children enough. His Da was always thinking of his business. That was why he had dragged Alf and the Hitchcocks from a perfectly good house in Leytonstone to a crummy place like Limehouse.
Alf felt a tear spring to his eye as he dwelt on this injustice. Through the rosy mists of memory he thought of the beloved house he had left behind. There were roses wreathed around a porch and a mother waiting at the garden gate in a checked apron, greeting him with a warm smile.
Or was that the cottage in ‘The Vicar’s Daughter’, on last week? It didn’t really matter. The point was the same.
He licked a salty tear away, smiling to himself and settling down for the next picture wishing he had some more peanuts.
He idly wondered if he had enough for an ice-cream, but he did not have to pull out the lining to know his pockets were empty apart from the sticky caramel sweet wrappers. And a dead pigeon’s wing.
He was out of luck and out of pennies. Soon it would be time to go home. Back to the real world.
Update : Jude’s first book in the series ‘Young Hitch in Forbidden Flames’ was published on 3rd January 2017 on the anniversary of the Siege of Sidney Street.
If you would like to find out more about the Young Hitch series of books, visit Jude’s blog here
Regular readers will know that I am always keen to find books with a link to the Island. Very few writers have written about the Island in a series of books, the great exception is bestselling author Carol Rivers who has written a number of books which generally feature characters on the Island.
Carol’s gritty and heart-warming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and appear regularly in many bestseller charts and Carol has a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.
I was delighted to receive a copy of Carol’s latest book, A Promise between Friends which takes place in the early 1950s and follows the adventures of the ambitious, 19-year-old Ruby Payne and her lifelong friend Kath Rigler. Ruby and Kath both suffer from issues that bring unhappy memories but are looking to start an exciting new independent life by moving into a new flat together.
London in the early 1950s was a city in transition, still suffering from shortages and bomb damage whilst trying to forge a new future. In the pursuit of the good things in life, some people were willing to take chances and the book captures the period when shady deals and false promises led many people into trouble. Ruby desperate to rise above her humble beginnings finds out that there is always a price to pay.
What really sets Carol’s book apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who are faced with situations familiar to many of us, in overcoming these problems they often seek help from their extended families who are considered of great importance. However, Carol’s books acknowledge that even though extended families were a great source of support, sometimes those loyalties were tested and could lead to conflict. This is another characteristic of Carol’s books, she often displays some of negative aspects of London life when characters go off the rails.
But for all the pain and conflict, Carol pays tribute to the strong characters, often women who manage to keep going through adversity. Ruby and Kath are two such characters who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships.
A Promise between Friends is the latest book from a writer who still takes a close interest of events on the Island and continues to be inspired by this small piece of East London.
If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy, it is available in many formats at Simon and Schuster, you can visit their website here
The ship Milverton in Stewart’s Dry Dock, Manchester Road, Isle of Dogs, ca. 1919 Photo (c) William Whiffin
Regular readers will know that I am always on the look out for stories related to the Isle of Dogs and recently came across a humorous short piece by W. Pett Ridge. William Pett Ridge was born at Chartham in Kent 1859, in the 1890s, he began to write humorous sketches for newspapers and magazines and became well known for his ability to write entertaining portraits of working class life. He went on to write a number of novels with Mord Em’ly published in 1898, the most successful. Pett Ridge’s great popularity as a novelist and writer was in the early part of the 20th century and it was at this time that he wrote The Little Brown Bus which involves a character that is familiar to all of us, namely the person who travels on public transport who will not shut up, in this case it is a sailor who meets a variety of characters on the little brown bus.
The Little Brown Bus by W. Pett Ridge (The Sailor’s Voyage to the Isle of Dogs)
East India Dock road is half inclined to put up its shutters, but reluctant to do this-albeit the hour is late-because foreign sailors, much more at sea here than when on the ocean, are still loafing on the edge of the pavement. The shops have everything a sea-going man may desire, from bars of hard yellow soap and fur caps and scarlet pocket handkerchiefs to chromos of smiling young women in hats of the early eighties; the job lots of literature tied up with a boot lace are calculated to satisfy nearly eve’ry taste. Outside the long red Asiatic Home and on its broad steps a few melancholy Chinamen stand, with queues carefully twisted up and pinned under their blue linen caps; this because the Limehouse boy has a weakness for pulling a pig-tail when he sees one, crying, “Shawp!” and running away. Chinamen up Millwall way are carrying round baskets of vegetables yoked over their shoulders. By the side of the tram terminus, and near the red eyed fire station stands the ‘bus. A little brown ‘bus, with yellow wheels, there for the convenience of those whom circumstances compel to go the Isle of Dogs.
Strangers’ Home in the West India Dock Road was also known as the Home for Asiatics, Africans, South Sea Islanders and Others. Date c.1901 ( National Maritime Museum)
THE ‘BUS FOR SINGAPORE
“Right for Singapore, cap’en?” “Jump in,” says the driver from the pavement, making one more attempt to light his pipe. “Change anywheres, cap’en?” “Yes,” replies the driver, curtly; “you’ll have to change a lot ‘fore you get on board your ship.”
“Not ,cross, are you, cap’en?”
“Look here, my lad,” says the driver goaded by this inquiry. “You get into that bloomin’ bus and take your seat and shut your head. That’s all you’ve got to do.”
“I’ve seen your face somewhere before,” says the peak-capped sailor.
“Any relation to old Frank Macey that used to live at Devonport ?”
Sulky reply in the negative. “Then ‘ave a cigar,” says the sailor genially. ” Put your pipe in your hat and have something to smoke. Lor’ bless my soul, I am glad to meet you. How’s the missus?”
Driver, accepting two pale brown cigars from the envelope offered, says that he never had a missus, and expresses a pious hope that, with the help of Providence and his own acuteness, he never may.
A BREEZY ‘BUS FARE
A piano organ starts one of Sousa’s marches, and the sailor, encouraged by the comparative friendliness of the driver, solicits the favor of his hand for a waltz; but the driver draws the line, and with the assistance of a strap cranes himself up into his seat, giving the sailor renewed advice to secure a place inside; which the sailor does, hailing the passengers with a seafaring salutation and lurching into the one vacant seat more by accident than design. The little brown ‘bus turns and goes across the tram lines.
“Well.” says the friendly sailor, “how are we all getting on this voy’ge?” Some of the passengers are sleepy and some are thoughtful; the sailor, closing one eye, selects a quiet, puss-headed Japanese. I’m very’ glad to hear,” he says, laying one hand on the other’s knee, “that me and old Solsbury managed that little affair all right. ‘We’re chums, ain’t we?”
The short Japanese sailor, with N.Y.K. on his collar, smiles and nods. Very well, then!” says the sailor with an injured air, “why not shake hands? Has anybody been telling you anything about me? Because if so–” The Japanese accepts the large hand. “That’s better!” remarks the sailor, restored to good temper. “Now, having gone so fur,
I should like to go a bit further and shake ‘ands with everybody – just to show there’s no ill-feeling.”
A SAILOR’S SONG.
The little ‘bus swerves round between the high walls that border the commencement of West Ferry road.
“There!” Now you can all say you’ve shook hands with a honest seafaring man.”
“I shan’t brag about it,” remarks a stout woman opposite.
“Oh mother! protests the sailor, tearfully. “Don’t be so harsh with your blue-eyed boy.”
‘Blue-eyed nuisance,” amends the stout woman.
“There’s a nice parent for you ! Bring up a mother in the way she should go, and when she grows old.
Anybody got any objection to my singing a song?”
“Yes,” says the other passengers with unanimity, “we have.”
“You ain’t so fond of me as you used to be,” remarks the sailor, regretfully: “Ever since that affair out at Valp’raiso you all seem different somehow. ‘Oh, thou ‘ast changed, my darling,’ ” sings the sailor; ” Thou smilst no more at me, Thou ‘ast no word of fond farewell, As I put out to-Way–ho!’ ”
The little ‘bus rattles across a wooden bridge separating the docks from the river; the passengers find coppers and hand up their pennies through a hole in the roof to the driver.
THE THIN LADY’S MOTTO
Some want change and this makes for conversation. One spare, melancholy woman who has been marketing with a shining black bag, the lock of which has long since refused to perform any of the duties of a lock, deplores the price of bread, and says with determination that she has really made up her mind if it goes much higher ,well (despairingly), she does not know what she shall do.
From which the conversation goes by a rapid stage to the difficulty that the thin lady has with her youngest boy, who has lately been going to theatres; the other beats this with a deplorable story of her Uncle John, who went in for religion.
“It all goes to show,” says this lady, as she pulls the strap and prepares to alight at Glengall road, “that it’s a mistake to go to either extreme; the ‘appy mejum’s my motto. Good night, all! Don’t be late in the morning.”
The Japanese also descends here to disappear in the meagrely-lighted streets, and on the talkative sailor who has been asleep, discovering this, he weeps, and declares that he has not a friend left in the world; that he is forsaken and alone; for two pins he would –
WANTED A WIFE
If only he had some one to love him! if only some, tidy, respectable woman, with a bit put by in the savings bank, would come to him and say, “Jim Allwright, give up seafaring life and settle down on shore and keep an eye on the shop and entertain your friends with a glass now and then,” why, then he would say, “Done with youz” and give the old ship the chuck without the least hesitation.
“I’m the most reasonable, good tempered man alive,” remarks the sailor contentedly. “Nothing ever upset me. I take everything as it comes. What you all getting out for?”
“Because,” explains one of the descending passengers politely, “because we can’t go any further. That’s why!”
“And a dashed good reason, too,” cries the sailor agreeably. “Goo’ ni’ everybody. Goblessye.”
The spare, thin old woman stands on the edge of the pavement watching him as he goes. The driver of the little brown ‘bus announces his intention of utilising the minutes of waiting before the return journey by going into the tavern in order to get the right time; the bystanders ignore the hint, and he goes alone.
“I used to have a son that was that way inclined,” says the thin woman, rather wistfully, “only, he was never funny with it.
Regular readers will know that I often try to find books that feature the Isle of Dogs, it is often surprising just how many have featured the Island. Much rarer is writers who locate a series of books on the Island, one writer that does is best selling author Carol Rivers and I was delighted last week to receive a copy of her latest book, The Fight for Lizzie Flowers .
Carol’s gritty and heartwarming East End family dramas are greatly influenced by her grandparents who lived in Gavrick Street and then Chapel House Street on the Island. The books are widely praised for their realism and have appeared regularly in many bestseller charts and have a loyal readership in the UK and increasingly in the United States.
The Fight for Lizzie Flowers is second of the series of Lizzie Flowers dramas, the first in the series was Lizzie of Langley Street which took place in the period of the First World War. The Fight for Lizzie Flowers is set in the 1930’s and begins with Lizzie preparing to marry Danny Flowers. It was Danny who had asked Lizzie to leave for a better life in Australia but Lizzie was not willing to make the break from her family and ended up marrying Danny’s brother Frank instead. It was a decision she came to regret but had stayed with him until he met an untimely end when he was drowned and fished out of the Thames at Limehouse.
Since Frank’s death, Lizzie had made a great success of running the Flowers greengrocer’s and Danny had come back to ask her to marry him. For all her hardships of the past, it now seemed her future was bright and full of hope. However an unwelcome guest arrives and Lizzie’s life is turned upside down.
What sets Carol’s book apart from many others of the type is that she creates believable characters who inhabit an Island that is still reliant on the docks and where family is still of great importance. Whilst the extended families were a great source of support, sometimes loyalties were divided that leads to conflict. This is another characteristic of Carol’s book, she often displays some of negative aspects of London life when characters go off the rails.
But for all the conflict, Carol pays tribute to the strong characters, often women who kept families together through adversity. Lizzie Flowers is one such character who is full of true East End grit who will not be defeated by life’s injustices and hardships.
I am sure that The Fight for Lizzie Flowers will be just as successful as Carol’s other books and will generate plenty of interest in the Island’s fascinating past. If you would like to read The Fight for Lizzie Flowers, it is available in many formats at Simon and Schuster, you can visit the page here
Last year I reviewed a book called The (Old) Isle of Dogs from A to Z by Mick Lemmerman, I am pleased to say that Mick has just published another book entitled The Isle of Dogs During World War II . Mick with colleagues Con Maloney and Peter Wright are well known for their work on Island history and have been responsible for collecting photographs and documents about the Island and making them widely available on a number of websites. Mick also has his own blog called Isle of Dogs – Past Life, Past Lives.
In my time writing this blog I have written about various aspects of the Isle of Dogs in the Second World War. However, Mick has written probably the first comprehensive account of the Island at this time that places the many personal accounts in their historical context. Mick acknowledges his debt for the personal accounts to Island History Trust who collected and published many WWII memories of Islanders.
Mick makes the point that on the eve of the war, the Island was essentially a self contained community little changed in generations, the pubs and the churches were hubs of support and entertainment and work was often available in the docks or other industries.
The book then looks at the preparation for war, it quickly became clear that the docks would be a prime target for German attacks and certain Air Raid Precautions were put into place. However, at the start of the war, there were no purpose-built shelters which would have tragic consequences. Originally trenches were built but were soon seen to be inadequate. The local council allocated public shelters in warehouse basements, church crypts and railway arches, the danger of these approaches would soon become apparent.
Mudchute became the base for a Anti-Aircraft Guns battery and Barrage Balloons became a common sight around the docks. For all the preparations, it was probably the evacuation of the children of the Island community that caused the greatest upheaval. Many parents were aware the docks would be in the front line and sent their children away.
The wisdom of this approach was made clear with the First Night of the Blitz, the book shows in detail the damage sustained and people’s memories of the Blitz and the aftermath. The horror and bravery of the people and services in those dark days are illustrated by the stories of those who had to deal with death and destruction on a daily basis. The Cubitt Town School Disaster and Bullivants Wharf disaster were two of the worst events on the Island with multiple fatalities. After surviving the Blitz, the danger was not over with subsequent raids and the V1 and V2 rockets.
During the war, the Island population fell to around 9,000 , after the war, even with this smaller population, the damage to the housing stock was so severe that Prefabs were built to provide temporary accommodation. This housing shortage had a number of long term effects that would change the character of the Island.
Reading this well written and well researched book underlines the way that the Second World War changed the Island forever, many of the close knit Island community were scattered over London, the country and the world. Many children evacuated never returned to their Island homes but went with their parents to new homes elsewhere. Most of the churches and pubs, formerly hubs of community life were now destroyed. This important historical record pays testament to the courage of those who survived and picked up the pieces to carry on to rebuild their lives and lists the memorials around the Island to those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
If you would like to find out more or buy a copy, visit the Amazon website here
Recently I came across the book, Ernie Pyle in England and began to read his recollections of visiting London and a number of other cities in late 1940 and early 1941.
Although virtually unknown in the UK, Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist known for his columns in the Scripps Howard newspaper chain. From 1935 to 1945, he was a roving correspondent covering many of the areas of action including North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. He was killed in combat on Iejima during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
In the war, he enjoyed a large following in some 300 newspapers and was among the best-known American war correspondents. Part of his popularity was his laid back and whimsical informal style and his empathy with the people and places he visited.
In the following two pieces you can get a taste of his style as he travels around the heavily bombed dockland areas in 1941.
THIS IS THE WAY OF WAPPING
London, January 1941
This is the way the people of London are. Last night I was standing in the dimly lighted office of the marshal of a big air-raid shelter in the East End.
A bareheaded man with a mustache, a muffler and a heavy overcoat was sitting in a chair tilted against the wall. I hadn’t noticed him until he spoke.
“Have you been around Wapping?” he asked.
Wapping is a poor, crime-heavy, conglomerate, notorious section of London. Also it has been terrifically bombed, as has all of London’s waterfront.
“No, I haven’t,” I said, “but it’s one place I’d like to see.”
“Well,” said the man, “I’m a policeman and tomorrow’s my day off. I’d like nothing better than to show you around Wapping if you would care for me to.”
Would I care for it! To get around Wapping with a policeman as a private guide— you can’t beat that if you’re out to see London. I jumped at the chance.
So Mr Ian Rubin, London bobby, and I walked six miles around Wapping. We did back alleys and dark places, burned warehouses and wrecked churches, block after block of empty flats. We did Wapping with a finetooth comb. And so I’m in a position to say that as far as Wapping is concerned there almost isn’t any Wapping any more.
Wapping is one part of the big borough of Stepney. Today its population is a mere few hundred. The entire ward was compulsorily evacuated in that first awful week of the blitz. They put people on boats and took them down the Thames. Those who have come back are mostly men.
In normal times Wapping would be a swarming, noisy mass of humanity, a population as dense as in our Lower East Side in New York. Today I walked block after block and met only half a dozen people. There was no sound in the streets. The place was dead. It was like a graveyard.
We walked into the big inner courtyard of a square of tenement flats. Rear balconies on each floor formed the walls of a square. The windows were all out; the walls were cracked; abandoned household belongings lay where they had been thrown. In the balconies above, no faces peeped over the railings. There was no sound, no movement, no life in the whole block. It was the terrible silence of that Wapping courtyard that got me.
Policeman Rubin and I walked on. We went into the station of a demolition squad— the men who pull down dangerous walls before turning over the general job of demolition to others. These are brave men. Five of them, in workmen’s clothes, were sitting before a crackling fireplace. There was nothing for them to do today— but there might be any time. They were very friendly, but I could barely understand their Cockney speech. One of them asked me if it was possible to write a letter to San Francisco. One of his fellow workers answered for me. “Sure, you dummy,” he said. “You can write anywhere you want.” Everyone of these men had been bombed out of his flat, one of them three times. Their wives have been evacuated, but they stayed on to work— a part of London’s great civilian army.
We stood now in a vacant lot where until last September there had been a five-story block of flats. It was fully occupied when a bomb hit. On the wall of a building across the alley you can still see the handprints of a man who was blown from his flat and smashed to death against the wall. We stood amid the wreckage of a church, in which Policeman Rubin himself had toiled all night helping to reach a mother superior who had been buried in the debris. She was dead when they found her.
We went to see the Church of St. John of Wapping, well known to American tourists. Only the steeple was left, and it was being torn down for safety’s sake.
We passed a pub where in the old days pirates and smugglers used to gather from the ends of the world to sell their illicit goods. It has been boarded up since September. We passed an undamaged warehouse, where big sacks of East Indian spice were being loaded onto drays, and the smell was sweet and wonderful. ,
We came to a street sign that said, “Danger. Unexploded Bomb.” So we walked around it. Policeman Rubin showed me where a time bomb fell at the edge of a school. They couldn’t get it out, so it lay there nine days before blowing the school to smithereens. The wreckage of the school still lay there in a heap.
I saw firemen damping down the inside of a warehouse in which a small new blaze had sprung up after months of smoldering. I saw great mounds of burned newsprint paper, and other mounds of scorched hemp. I saw half walls with great steel girders hanging, twisted by explosion and fire. But I saw whole warehouses, too; for Hitler didn’t get them all. We wandered back and forth through dead, empty streets, and looked at hundreds of ground floor apartments where rubble-covered furniture stood just as it had been left. The owners probably will never come back for it. We walked for another hour, Policeman Rubin and I, and then suddenly we came upon a small store with the wallboard front and little show-window center which are today the badge of a bombed establishment that’s still doing business. And when I saw that window it dawned on me that in a solid hour of walking this was the first open store window I had seen. Every other doorway and window in an entire hour of walking through the heart of a city district was a doorway or a window into a room that no longer held human beings or goods.
That is the way in Wapping today. There will have to be a new Wapping when this is all over.
THE PYNTED AWL London,
We got on a bus, a friend and myself, to see more of London’s devastated East End, where the poor people live, London buses are double-deckers, and you can smoke on the top deck, so we sat up there. You don’t just pay a flat fare in London. The conductor comes around and sells you a ticket to wherever you want to go. But we weren’t sure just where we
wanted to go, not knowing London well.
“I think we’d like to go around the Isle of Dogs,” I told the conductor. So he told us where to change buses.
While waiting for the second bus we bought four apples (thirty cents) and ate them. This second bus took us only a short way, and we had to get off and walk two blocks, for the street had been blown up. A big group of men in workmen’s clothes stood waiting for the next bus.
“Is this where we get a bus to the Isle of Dogs?” we asked.
One little stoop-shouldered fellow with yellow teeth and a frazzled coat said, “Just where do you want to go?”
We said we didn’t know. He laughed and said, “Well, this bus will take us there.”
So we all got on, and after a while a big man who was with the little fellow moved back and said he and the little fellow were going to walk through a tunnel under the Thames and would we like to get off and go with them. We said, “Sure.”
It was a foot tunnel, not big enough for cars. These two men work on barges carrying freight up and down the Thames. They leave home one morning and don’t return until the next afternoon. They were carrying tin lunch boxes now. The big fellow had been to New York six times, before the first World War, working on ships. He told us about it as we walked through the tunnel.
At the other end we came out into what is known as Greenwich. The two men walked us past Greenwich College, which is very old. We stopped before some iron gates and peered through them at some far domes.
“Now that there,” said the little fellow, “that’s the fymous pynted awl.”
“The what?” I said.
“The pynted awl,” he said. “You know, doncha, the fymous pynted awl— the pynted ceilin’, you know.”
And then I realized he was saying “painted hall.” So we looked appreciatively.
“All American tourists knows it,” he said. “The artist he lyed on his back in a ‘ammock for twenty years pyntin’ that ceilin*, and when he got through he found a mistyke in it and he went cracked worryin’ about it.
Nobody else to this d’y has ever been ayble to find the mistyke. You tell the Americans the bombs heynt touched the pynted awl.”
We came to the little fellow’s corner, so we shook hands and said good-bye. The big fellow got on a double decked trolley with us, and do you know that this cockney, a complete stranger, insisted on paying our fare and him as poor as a church mouse! He said people had been nice to him in New York. But that was twenty-five years ago.
After a while we said good-bye to him and got on another bus. It took us down into Blackwall Tunnel, back under the Thames. Then we got out and walked down into the neighborhood of the great West India docks. They won’t let you onto the docks, but we could peep through.
It was raining now and very cold, and it was getting dark. We walked amid wreckage and rubble and great buildings that stood, wounded and empty. It was ghostlike and fearsome in the wet dusk. Poor, pitiful East End! True, Londoners say the slums should have been knocked down long ago, but this is a grievous way to go about it.
Photo Cover, (Peter Wright)
Regular readers to the blog will know that I often refer to another Isle of Dogs blog called Isle of Dogs Past Life, Past Lives run by Mick Lemmerman, Mick (who was born in Whitechapel, but moved to the Island when he was eight) with colleagues Con Maloney and Peter Wright have been responsible for collecting photographs and documents about the Island and making them widely available on a number of websites. Mick has recently started to collate all this information and now has produced a book that gives a comprehensive view of the people, firms, schools, churches, buildings, streets and landmarks on the Isle of Dogs.
As well as concise descriptions and interesting nuggets of information, there are a large number of historical photographs of people and places. For example many Islanders remember the Glass Bridge, the book gives the following history.
Photo Glass Bridge, Jackie Wade (nee Jordan)
Glass Bridge When the dock company stated at the end of the 1950s its intention to close the Glengall Rd. bridge over Millwall Docks, protests and support from the council lead to the construction of a high-level footbridge across the docks, very quickly referred to as the Glass Bridge due to its glass enclosure.
The bridge became a target for vandals and pedestrians were so intimidated that few used it. Severe damage to the glass and the lifts in 1975–6 caused the bridge to be closed and it was demolished by the London Docklands Development Corporation in 1983.
One aspect of the Isle of Dogs is that it is always changing and the book lists many of the streets, buildings and landmarks that have disappeared over time. The ever changing nature of the Island is especially noticeable when considering the Island pubs, many now a distant memory but fondly remembered by many. One of my favourite illustrations is the ill fated actress Jayne Mansfield serving a pint in the George, which is still with us but pubs like the Anchor and Hope are in a sorry state awaiting demolition.
Photo Anchor & Hope, (Peter Wright)
The book also offers some original photographs of well known Isle Of Dogs landmarks such as Mudchute.
Photo Mudchute, (Mick Lemmerman)
Mudchute (aka Muddy) The name derives from it being the former dumping ground for mud dredged from the Millwall Docks which had to be regularly dredged to prevent silting up. A novel, pneumatic device was employed which pumped the liquefied mud through a pipe over East Ferry Rd. (close to the George pub), dumping it on the other side.
However looking through the book it is noticeable that many of the streets on the Island have changed almost beyond recognition. Cuba Street being a prime example.
Photo Cuba St, (Peter Wright)
Cuba St. Name changed from Robert St. (after Robert Batson) in 1875. As with other streets in the area, it was named after places in the West Indies (a major source of sugar imports into the West India Docks).
This book would appeal to people who have lived in the area all their life and to the new residents who want to find out more about one of the most interesting parts of East London. It will also appeal to anyone with an interest in the area and the people and would like to find out more. Even those of us who think we know a bit about the Island will find in the book a number of genuine surprises.
Mick has provided a valuable resource to the many people and amateur historians interested in the Island. This together with the Island Trust books are invaluable for understanding the amazing history of the Island.
If you would know more about the book or would like to buy a copy in either print or eBook , visit the Amazon store here