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Buildings being demolished is not an unusual site on the Isle of Dogs, however walking down Alpha Grove I was surprised by the sight of a demolition squad knocking down the remains of St Luke’s Church Millwall.
The building had become very run down in recent years and plans are in hand for a new church and community centre on the site. When this church is built it will carry on the tradition of church buildings on the site since 1868.
The first church was built in 1868 on land donated by Lady Margaret Charteris and Lord Stafford, it was considered quite a grand church for the area seating 700. The architect was E. L. Blackburne who had earlier restored Crosby Hall in Bishopsgate.
A mission hall was built on to the south side of the church in 1883. It was converted into a chapel when new parish rooms were built in 1912. There was also a Gothic-style vicarage built on the site in 1873.
The church became an important part of the local community and as the following 1937 newspaper report states the scene of an occasional drama.
Pretty 25-year-old Gladys Kite, dressmaker, of Havannah street, Millwall, sobbed as she told how for the third time her marriage had been postponed.
She was to have married Mr Ernest Jolly, aged 22, of Wanlip-road, West Ham under-manager in a Dagenham refrigerator factory.
‘We were to have been married in June,” said Miss Kite. “Later we made arrangements for a wedding in September. ”
Then Ernest fell out of work, so waited until to-day.
“We had rented a flat at Ilford and had been paying for it for five weeks. We had been friends for eight years.
“When I saw Ernest last night I laughingly told him I would keep the ring in case he forgot to bring it to the church.”
For two hours she waited for him at her home, dressed in a bridal gown and carrying a bouquet of white lilies,her blonde hair specially waved, she waited to hand him the ring before she left for St, Luke’s Church.
“My uncle Stephen arrived at 1.5o p.m., “and told me Ernest had disappeared,” she added.
“We waited two hours before some one went round to the church to tell the guests there would be no wedding.
“Ernest had been living with my parents for the” last month.” but it was arranged that he should spend last night with my uncle.
“He kissed me good-night, and left” Stephen Kite, the uncle, of North-street, Barking, said “Ernest went shopping, returned, told me the friend who was to have brought his wedding suit had not arrived, and said he had better go and see about it.”
No one had seen him since.
It was not to be third time lucky for poor Gladys , and within a few years the church itself was unlucky when it was badly damaged in the Second World War.
By 1960 the decision was made to demolish the church, however a chapel with stained-glass windows was made at the east end of the parish rooms and consecrated for worship.
St Luke’s Church Interior 1960
This chapel and the parish rooms was only ever intended to be a temporary solution but was used for the next 54 years.
The design for the new church with community centre are in keeping with the church at the centre of the local community, however the destruction of the last remnant of the old church will be viewed with some sadness by a few islanders as a loss of a connection with the past.
Photograph by L Katiyo
Last weekend saw the Island’s Big Weekend, a free event organised by six churches on the Island: the Barge, Christ Church, City of Peace, Great Light Connections, Quaystone and St Luke’s.
Photograph by L Katiyo
Although the Big Weekend event has only been running for three years, it follows a much older tradition of events organised by the various churches on the Island .
Photograph by L Katiyo
Over 80 volunteers from the churches put on the event that attracts thousands to Millwall Park.
It is also supported by sponsors that include Isle of Dogs Community Foundation (IDCF),
London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Canary Wharf Group, Mustard Seed Foundation
Waitrose Plc, Docklands Settlements.
Photograph by L Katiyo
There were free burgers and hotdogs for everyone, fun and games for children including bouncy castles.
Photograph by L Katiyo
The event organisers believe its a great way for Islanders got to know each other, sitting around in the marquee or on the grass at Millwall Park.
Photograph by L Katiyo
As in previous years, it ended on Sunday with worship service in the morning and another barbecue after the service.
This event is a good illustration of whilst the Islands population has increased dramatically in the last few years , there are many organisations and individuals who work hard to foster a community spirit for Islanders old and new.
When I am travelling past Limehouse station on the DLR , I am always fascinated by the statue of Jesus stuck aloft a tall chimney. Nobody else ever seems to take much notice but I always wondered how this particular Limehouse landmark came about.
The chimney or tower belongs to the Our Lady Immaculate and St Frederick that looks out upon Commercial Road.
The church’s origins lay in a mission founded in 1881 to serve the large Irish population that lived in the Limehouse area at the time. Using rooms around Limehouse initially , the mission progressed to a temporary church until a more permanent church was planned in 1925. However lack of finances delayed the project and it was left to the mission priest to supervise the five skilled workman and volunteers until they completed the church in 1934.
Whilst the church itself is quite traditional it does have number of features externally which are quite unusual.
The chimney like tower supports the ” Christ the Steersman ” or “the Steering Christ” , it was designed to be seen from the Limehouse Basin and from the Thames and even considering the amount of development if you know where to look you can see still see the statue.
The statue’s curious design is supposed to be similar to a ship’s figurehead and reflect Limehouse’s connection to the river and the Sea.
The north of the church has a small niche which contains a statue of the Virgin Mary and a clock, but in front of the church is a striking Cross showing Christ Crucified. The sculpture has a front and back view and was made in a local foundry.
On the west of the church halfway up the wall is a fibreglass sculpture of Our Lady with the Christ Child.
Once you know where the statue of ” the Steering Christ” is, it offers a reassuring presence as you wander the streets of Limehouse. And if you are travelling on the DLR , try to spot it when you pass Limehouse station.
The history of the Isle of Dogs often produces strange and unusual stories, however very few people would expect the Island to be the site of first Anglican Benedictine community of monks at the end of the 19th century.
The charismatic leader behind the “Monks of Cubitt Town” was a young Anglican medical student named Benjamin Fearnley Carlyle whose interest in monastic life was part of a wider movement which looked to return to the simple life as an antidote to the problems of the industrialised modern world. Carlyle or Brother Aelred as he called himself believed you could lead a contemplative life but also provide service, helping the poor.
The Priory (many thanks to Mick at islandhistory.wordpress.com for sending photo)
In 1896 he was invited to come and live with some of his followers at a large house at 45 Glengall Road which became known as the Priory. Within a few months the house was fitted out with a chapel, library and club room. Over the next two years Brother Aelred and his followers began to live according to Benedictine rules with help and support from the local clergy especially Reverend D. G. Cowan of St John’s on the Isle of Dogs. Although there is little evidence to exactly what the Brothers did, the Booth Poverty survey noted that not everyone welcomed their presence, apparently there was an article in The Cubitt Town Protestant Banner, a parish magazine April 1897 which includes an article criticising the work of the Cubitt Town monks.
Although they were living the lives of monks, they were not officially sanctioned as such by church. At the end of 1897, Brother Aelred went to see the local vicar, Rev Cowans and told him that he thought his pastoral work was preventing him from living a Benedictine life and he wanted a quieter life in the country. He also wanted official recognition for the Anglican Benedictine monks. Rev Cowan wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask him to see Brother Aelred which he did in 1898, the outcome of the meeting was the Archbishop sanctioned for him to live according to Benedictine Rule.
This move was not without its controversy, although it was recognised that the revival of Brotherhoods and Sisterhoods in the 19th century may be good for the church, there was considerable concern that the new communities would be outside the authority of the church itself.
Over the next few years the community went from place to place until they found a more permanent home in Cadley Island in Wales in 1906. In 1913 the uneasy alliance between the community and the Anglican authorities come to open rebellion when almost the entire community converted to Catholicism.
Father Aelred was ordained as Benedictine Abbot of Caldey in 1914, where he stayed before resigning in 1921 and moving to Canada to undertake missionary work in Canada for the next 30 years. The other monks in 1928 went to Prinknash Park where they still have a community.
In 1951, Aelred returned to England, and in 1953 he was allowed to renew his monastic vows at Prinknash Abbey.
When Aelred died in 1955, he was once again a full member of the community he had founded on the Isle of Dogs sixty years earlier.
In the late 19th century, the Isle of Dogs was often visited by a number of religious organisations who often set up missions to work with the poor. Although the Isle of Dogs had its poor areas it did not have the extreme social conditions of some of the other parts of the East End. Therefore it was not a surprise that the Monks of Cubitt Town was not welcomed with open arms by the local population.
The history of Brother Aelred perhaps suggests he was more interested in the romantic image of a religious community rather than reality of inner city communities, however the Monks of Cubitt Town did create their own piece of religious history on the Island by founding the first Anglican Benedictine community of monks.
Today all over the Country and indeed all over the World, people will remember the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty.
Thousands will pay homage at the high-profile events at the Cenotaph, however the Isle of Dogs is unusual for having very few War Monuments, many of the ones remembering the First World War were destroyed in the Blitz .
A rare survivor is the Cross and Monument standing in front of St Luke’s Church in Stafford Street in Millwall.
St Luke’s just before demolished 1960
The Cross and the list of names to the fallen in the First World War has survived, however the rest of the original church it was attached to was badly damaged in the Second World War and was eventually demolished in 1960. Since then the church has carried on with a make-shift chapel, tacked on to the church hall.
St Luke’s Church
Although the appearance of the church is run down, it is a measure of how important the monument is to the church and local people that it was saved from being destroyed.
Next to the memorial is a plaque which remembers a Lt Roland Dowlen a former Scoutmaster at the Church whose death in a concentration camp in Germany is the tragic end to a remarkable story.
Roland was born in Sicily in 1907 , his mother was American and his father Italian.
He went to work for Royal Bank of Canada in Paris in 1923 before being transferred to the London branch of the Bank in 1933. In 1936 he became a naturalised British subject, soon afterwards in 1937 he became first Scoutmaster of the 22nd South Poplar Scouts Troop based at St Luke’s Church. For the next two years he becomes a popular figure amongst the many scouts he trained.
However it is the advent of the second world war that transformed the Bankworker/Scoutmaster into a Radio operator working for the top secret (SOE) Special Operations Executive.
The SOE was officially formed in 1940, to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements.
It was a top-secret organisation based near Baker Street, people in the know nicknamed the organisation “the Baker Street Irregulars”, or “Churchill’s Secret Army”.
Roland enlisted in the Army in 1941 and volunteered for the SOE, he had particular skills the SOE were looking for, namely speaking fluent French and experience of living in France for a long period. He was also methodical and calm under pressure.
After training as a radio operator he was flown into France in 1943 to work with what was known as the Chestnut network. The three main SOE agents in the network were former racing car drivers who had contacts with many influential people in France. It was messages from these agents that Roland was to relay. This work was extremely dangerous and many radio operators were caught and killed quickly due to the fact that the Germans had their own Direction Finding teams who traced the source of the radio signals.
Considering that the average life of a Radio operator in the field was six weeks, Roland exceeded expectations by surviving five months before being caught by the Gestapo in August 1943.
Over the next 18 months he was moved around France and Germany, due to his role in the SOE he would have been mistreated and probably tortured to get information from him.
Eventually he ended up in Flossenberg concentration camp where just two weeks before it was liberated by the Americans he was executed by hanging.
His sacrifice was acknowledged by the British Army who gave him a mention in Despatches and by the French where his name is on Valencay Memorial. The Valençay SOE Memorial is a monument to the members of the Special Operations Executive F Section who lost their lives for the liberation of France.
Mentioned in Despatches
“This officer was landed in France by Lysander on the 18th March 1943 as W/T operator to a circuit in the Paris area. He worked for five months in this difficult region, and sent 39 messages to London. He was arrested by the Gestapo on the 12th August 1943, and spent over 18 months in captivity in France and Germany, during which time he suffered great hardships and severe treatment. He was executed on the 29th March 1945 in Flossenberg concentration camp.
For his bravery and self-sacrifice, it is recommended that Lieut. Dowlen be awarded a posthumous Mention in Despatches. 8th December 1945.”
Remembrance Day is a reminder that ordinary people like Roland did extraordinary tasks but paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their country.
In the next few years the present St Luke’s Church will be transformed into a new church on the same site with the monument cleaned and relocated .
The demolition of Dockland Settlement No 2
Building work and demolition are ever constants on the Isle of Dogs, however the demolition of a building on East Ferry Road will be viewed with great sadness by many Island people.
Built in 1905, the building was initially called the Welcome Institute and was created to provide a clubroom and canteen for factory girls and women. However after the First World War many employers provided facilities on the premises and therefore other uses for the building were considered.
In 1923 the building was taken by the Docklands Settlement Mission, a charity created by the Malvern College.
The Dockland settlement building No 2 to give it it’s full title was a testament to the tradition of Charity and Service undertaken by Public Schools in many deprived areas which began at the end of the 19th Century.
The missions were built on Christian values and the wealthy young man and women of the College were encouraged to help those in need.
From small beginnings with the Dockland Settlement No 1 in Canning Town the mission grew into Eight Missions and two holiday homes. This was often achieved by the patronage of wealthy friends and family (sometimes even Royalty) of many of the students who worked in the missions.
An important aspect of the missions was the promotion of sports and pastimes and physical education. It was in this sphere especially that the Settlement became well known producing many talented sportsmen and women.
Over time it provided services for all age groups and became a fully fledged community centre.
However by the 1960s and 1970s the building was beginning to show the wear and tear of decades of use and by the 1980s like the docks themselves it was in decline.
However in the 1990s the building got a new lease of life when the chapel became a church and living quarters were turned into offices . One of the offices was the base of the Island History Trust whose collection of photographs and history of the Island are a vital record of the rapidly changing way of life.
In more recent times it was still used extensively by the Local Community but it became increasingly clear the building would need considerable refurbishment to continue. The decision was then made to vacate the building to enable extension to the new college that had been created on the site.
Even when the building finally disappears over the next few weeks , it will leave many Islanders with fond memories of Dockland Settlement No 2.
These excerpts are taken from the Book Seven Years Hard written by the Reverend Free in 1904.
In a previous posts we read how the Reverend Free tired of tending to well off parishioners decided he wanted to undertake some missionary work in the Isle of Dogs, when he arrives in early 1897 his first impressions are not good and very soon after he gets a not particularly friendly welcome from some of the locals. After spending some years on the Isle of Dogs and getting to know the inhabitants the Reverend Free goes on to discuss their vices and virtues.
Well, let us acknowledge at once that the life of the East-ender is more or less a closed book to us. As our experience of him increases, our understanding of him seems to decrease. The problem is larger than we anticipated ; more intimate realisation of it confounds us. The East-ender’s sorrows, his joys, his ambitions : what does the most experienced know of these, save in the most superficial way ? Keenly desirous as we are of entering into the inner meaning of the life of the toiler, the most sanguine can boast but very partial success. Brotherhood is as yet too new a word ; identity of interest has not yet become a reality. Nevertheless, the lights and shades of the picture stand out prominently. Like other people, East-enders have their virtues and their vices, their angelical moments as well as their diabolical. Certainly they are not altogether bad ; quite as certainly they are not altogether good.
The besetting sin of the East-ender is intemperance. The drink habit is all but universal. If a dock labourer is invited to a ” beano,” he forthwith begins to devise the biggest possible ” booze ” at the highest possible price. Tell a factory girl that you are going to take her for an outing, and she immediately falls a-dreaming of unlimited “treats” of port wine. Boys on a holiday regard it as quite the correct thing to get drunk. And even women have very little notion ot a day in the country apart from the bottle. Nevertheless, women are not so very culpable. For one intoxicated woman, you will probably find two intoxicated boys and three intoxicated girls.
Like most evil things in the East End, the trick of gambling is acquired early in life. Pitch-and-toss at the street corners is of the passionate kind. On a single Sunday afternoon a boy will lose as much as five or six shillings. It is difficult for the police to cope with the evil, even when they are anxious to do so, which is not always. For the lads have their scouts at every corner,and at the sotto voce cry of ” Copper!” dissolve as it were by magic. Moreover, there is always a friendly neighbour to give asylum to the young miscreants. Doors left hospitably open afford a convenient means of escape. So many streets and alleys are cul-de-sacs, that a flank movement is denied the most consummate generalship. And it really is difficult fora policeman with any dignity to insist, in the face of absolute denial from the innocent-looking tenant of a house, that his quarry is in hiding under the family bed.
Foremost among the virtues of the East-ender is his good-humour. Good-humour is the redeeming point in his character, the salt that sweetens his very impurities, the lever that lifts him from the gutter where he is prone to lie all too complacently. He has many failings, many right-down vices ; but through them all,rendering them almost tolerable, runs that rich vein of gold.
The East-ender’s good-humour exhibits itself as much in
” Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles,”
” Nod, and becks, and wreathed smiles.”
That is to say, he is fun-loving as well as amiable. His capacity for fun is enormous ; sometimes manifesting itself in sheer waggishness, at other times in the driest of dry banter, again in pungent and even delicate wit. Rarely is his smartness cruel. When it is so, it is jagged rather than keen. It does not cut ; it tears. His wit is easy and refreshingly original. Also, which is a great thing, it is without fear.
Next to his humour I should say that the East-ender’s most striking virtue is his affectionate clannishness. He will do anything for his own. Is a woman sick ? There will be no lack of willing hands to help with the children and look after the husband. Is a neighbour ” badly off,” which in East End vernacular means starving ? Somebody’s pocket is always full enough to spare a copper or two. It is not unusual for a whole street to subscribe to a present in money for a decent man or woman unusually down on their luck ; and the ” friendly lead ” for a poor fellow who has met with an accident.
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