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Swimming Fete at West India Docks 1895
Regular readers may know that the Isle of Dogs played an important part in the history of swimming being the birthplace of John Trudgen and the scene of many swimming competitions.
However, the West India Docks also placed an important part in the promotion of Lifesaving in the water. William Henry who was a champion swimmer became increasingly concerned by the amount of drownings in Victorian Britain. This led him to become the founder of the Royal Lifesaving Society which was founded in 1891. The main architects of the formation of the new Society were William Henry and Archibald Sinclair who were keen to promote lifesaving. In the first year, the first lifesaving courses were introduced and a handbook of techniques produced and a national lifesaving competition was held with 24 teams competing.
By 1897, the Lifesaving Society were ready to expand their society and organised its first International Gala at the West India Dock in the presence of the Duke & Duchess of York. Competitors participated from United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany Sweden and France. Events included swimming competitions, lifesaving demonstrations and diving events.
Swimming Fete at West India Docks 1895
This was not the first time that swimming events had been held in West India Dock but was one of the largest and most prestigious.
A newspaper report from 1897 gives all the details.
Swimming Fete at the West India Docks
In the six years of its existence the Life-Saving Society has organised no more important or successful gathering than the “Diamond Jubilee International Championship Gala,” which took place at the West India Docks on July 3. Various circumstances combined to give a distinction to the occasion, not the least being the presence of the Duke of York, who is president of the society, accompanied by the Duchess of York. Although not a wealthy organisation, the Life-Saving Society has a great and widespread influence in all parts of the world where swimming clubs are established. The proceedings had been timed to begin at 3 o’clock, but long before that hour vast concourse of spectators had lined the quays of the West India Dock, and had occupied every position from which a view was obtainable.
In honor of the occasion, the warehouses and other buildings in the neighbourhood hung out flags, and the vessels in the dock made a liberal display of bunting, which gave au appearance of unusual gaiety and brightness to the generally sombre surroundings.
A most enthusiastic welcome was given to the Duke and Duchess of York, when punctually at 3 o’clock, they arrived, accompanied by Lord Knutsford and the Hon Sydney Holland, acting-president of the society. The Royal party entered the dock in the steam launch Cintra, which, besides flying the Royal Standard and the Union Jack, was tastefully decorated with flowers and. evergreens.
The first item on the programme was a display of rescue and release drill by twenty-two teams of four swimmers each. The most important event on the “card ” was the mile amateur championship, for a challenge cup, which has been held since 1893 by J. H. Tyers, Manchester Osborne S.C., champion of England, and holder of the world’s record. As events proved, however, Tyers was not to retain the championship for another year. First to get away, he was speedily challenged by J.H. Derbyshire, a member of his own club, but at the end of the first lap, he was leading by nine yards. At the third round out of the eight which made up the mile, the race lay between Tyers, Derbyshire, Arnold Toepfer (Poseidon S.C., Berlin, champion of Germany),and Percy Cavill (East Sydney S.C., champion of Australia). Very soon, however, Derbyshire, Toepfer, and Cavill fell off, and J. A. Jarvis (LeicesterS.C.), Midland Counties champion swam to the front. Tyers steered very wide, and finally the Midlands champion finished the winner by fully twenty yards. The English amateur record time for this distance is 26min 46sec. The time on Saturday was not so good, being 32min 28 sec. Jarvis who is a house-painter by trade—is a young man of twenty-five, and he has won all the Midland County championships for the past four years. On every previous occasion when he competed for the mile championship he was placed third. He has not swum a mile for twelve months, and won Saturday’s race practically untrained.
Later events proved that in diving the Swedish representatives are unapproachable, bat the race unmistakably demonstrated the superiority of the Englishmen in strong, powerful swimming. Toepfer, the German, was the only representative from abroad, who seemed able to maintain anything like the pace of the English swimmers. Guy Seron (Brussels S.C.), the Belgian champion, Cavill, of Australia, and W. J. Stratton (Zephyr S.C.), champion of New Zealand, all fell behind early in the contest, and finished a long distance in the rear of Jarvis and Tyers.
In a special 100-Yards Scratch Race, J. Hellings (Bondi), Sydney, obtained first place, J. Hunt (May field), Manchester, second, and T. Rourke, Salford, third position. The winner’s time was 1 min 11 sec , the second and third man being respectively one and three seconds behind
A 100-Yards Rescue Race was won by J. T. Savill and W. E. Wood (London and India Docks S.C.), W. W.. Green and S. W. Turner
(Pacific S.G.) being awarded second place. A 100 yards open amateur handicap was swum in four heats, the final result being:—
O. W. Payne (Polytechnic), first ;
F. G. Robinson (Neptune), second ; and
E. Eildred (York), third.
The winner received s start of 16sec.
Z. Claro (City Police), with a start of 16sec
wonthe 100yds Open Obstacle Handicap,
with S. Ross (Shakespeare) for second,
and W. Fewell (Polytechnic) in third
Apart from these contests, the most interesting feature of the programme was the display of high aud fancy diving given by the twelve gentlemen who came as representatives of the Swedish Swimming Associations. It is no exaggeration to say that nothing to equal it has ever been seen in London, and it drew from the spectators round after round of the heartiest and most appreciative cheering. So great was the interest manifested in it by the Duke of York that the launch was moored out nearer to the diving platform, in order that His Royal Highness and the Duchess of York who also followed the exhibition with evident
pleasure might have a better opportunity of witnessing the performances.
Succeeding this display came a national graceful diving contest, which was won by V. Sounemans, of Brussels, H. S. Martin, of St. James, being awarded second position, and Master W. E. Webb, of the same club (a mere boy), taking third place. Sounemans, when the result was announced, offered to give an exhibition of high and fancy diving, and was rewarded with an outburst of hearty, honest English cheering, the recollection of which must always remain with him. The diving display was “sandwiched” between several minor events, and shortly after it was over the Duke and Duchess of York took their departure, having remained for fully an hour and a half, most interested spectators of the gala.
Swimming events were held in West India Dock up to the 1930s but few would have been as well attended than this one. The Royal Lifesaving Society has gone from strength to strength and runs courses and competitions all around the world. It is now a Drowning Prevention Charity and the UK’s leading provider of water safety and drowning prevention education.
After the visit from the Lord Nelson, we have the delight of a visit from her sister ship STS Tenacious. The Tenacious is a wooden sail training ship which was specially designed to be able to accommodate disabled sailors. Launched in Southampton in the year 2000, it is one of the largest wooden tall ships in the world. It is 65 metres long with a beam of 10.6 metres at its widest point.
Photo – Eric Pemberton
The Tenacious and the Lord Nelson are owned by the UK-based charity the Jubilee Sailing Trust who have for many years have pioneered sailing for the disabled. The Jubilee Sailing Trust became a registered charity in 1978 and was the brainchild of Christopher Rudd, a school teacher and sailor who wanted to give the disabled children he taught the same experiences his able-bodied students had.
Photo – Eric Pemberton
Since its launch Tenacious has taken nearly 12,000 people sailing of these 3,000 were physically disabled and 1,000 were wheelchair users.
With the Totally Thames festival in full swing, there are plenty of interest on and near the river, St Katherine’s Dock has a number of historic boats in the dock including the Havengore and Gloriana.
Photo – Eric Pemberton
Many thanks to Eric Pemberton for the photographs of the Tenacious coming into West India Dock.
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, new boardings 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. People were enticed outside with the wonderful warm weather and began to take their positions along the route . 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, in an exciting finish Britain’s David Weir won his eighth London Marathon in the men’s wheelchair race.
Australia’s Madison de Rozario won her first-ever London Marathon to take victory in the women’s wheelchair race.
Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot won her first London Marathon with Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei second, Ethiopia’s Tadelech Bekele third and Great Britain’s Lily Partridge finished a creditable eighth place.
The men’s race was another win for Kenya with Eliud Kipchoge , Ethiopa’s Tola Shura Kitata was second and Britain’s Mo Farah finished third in a new British record.
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, competitors in the race have raised nearly 60 million pounds for various charities.
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.
After recent Tall Ship visitors from the United States and Mexico, it is a pleasant surprise to see the arrival of the British Tall Ship Stavros S Niarchos into the West India Dock today. The Stavros S Niarchos was last in the dock in September last year and is a regular visitor to the Thames and a familiar sight in numerous tall ship events.
The Stavros S Niarchos is a British brig-rigged tall ship owned and operated by the Tall Ships Youth Trust. Built in 2000, she has been used to give young people the opportunity to develop skills and talents whilst undertaking voyages to various locations. She is also available for voyages and holidays which provides revenue to maintain the operation of the ship.
The ship has a length of 197ft , masts of 148ft and beam of 32ft, she usually operates a crew of 69 which include regular crew and volunteers.
When she visited last year, the Stavros S Niarchos was put up for sale, it does appear that is still the case, so if you have dreamed of owning your own tall ship here is your opportunity.
Another unexpected visitor is French Navy weapons-range safety patrol boat FS Aramis who like last week’s French visitor, the FS Scarpe is part of the Maritime Gendarmerie.
The Maritime Gendarmerie are part of the French Navy and the ships carry out a series of duties including chasing criminal activity, protection of the naval shore establishments and Search and rescue.
The FS Aramis was launched in 1980 and often carries a crew of around 12 including divers.
Once again, regular contributor Eric Pemberton managed to take a couple of photos of the tall ship entering the dock.
Regular readers will know that Eric Pemberton often supplies interesting pieces of ephemera which provides the basis for some research and an article. Last week Eric sent some photographs that was a reminder of an unusual occupation on the river which allowed people on board ships to send and receive mail.
In the 19th century, postmen did not just deliver the mail on land. One of the most unusual jobs in London was the post of River Postman which covered the stretch of the River Thames from London Bridge to Limehouse reach. The post of River Postman was established in 1800 and included a special scarlet uniform which allowed the postman to be noticed on the busy river. Accidents were not unknown and at least two postman died in the early years of the 19th century.
A newspaper report of 1912 gives some details about Frederic Winder who was one of the early River postmen.
Postman to Crimean Transports carried Mails across the Frozen Thames.
The funeral took place at Lewisham Cemetery recently of Mr. Frederic William Winder, who has terminated a remarkable career, at the age of 95 years. He was an old Thames postman, and he handled the Crimean mails. In the terrible winter of 1855 which stands out as one of the most awful memories of the Crimean campaign, he carried the bags of letters over the Thames ice to the troopship lying opposite the old Deptford Victualling Yard.
‘It was in 1840 — the year the penny post came in — that I first became a Thames postman. My predecessor was on the river for 42 years. ‘For about 30 years I used to deliver the letters to the ships lying between Limehouse and East Greenwich. They were all, timber-built ships in those days, and it was a wonderful sight to see them all on the water. I have counted as many as 300 ‘sail of ships’ between Deptford Creek and Deadman’s Dock. When the Crimean War was on the Thames used to look like a forest with all the transport vessels and their big masts. So hard was the winter of 1855 that I was often able to do away with my river boat and walk across the ice to the transports, carrying the letters and mail bags.’
It was quite common for the job of River Postman to be handed down from father to son, Eric’s photographs show two generations of the Evans family who were the best known postmen on the river, the postman in the boater is George Henry Evans taken around 1910, many of the other photo’s feature his son Herbert Lionel Evans.
A newspaper report of 1924 discusses some of the problems of delivering to Limehouse and gives some details of River Postman, Mr H L Evans.
Little comedies and adventures in the life of a postman as described in “The Post Annual,’ which is produced by the Union of Post Office Workers.
” It tells of some queer places of delivery-ranging from a letter box under the doorstep of a house to vessels lying in mid Thames, to which the river postman row every morning,” say the London Daily Chronicle.”
“There is one house in Chinatown,” says the writer, “the front of which opens on to the backyard of another house in front of it, it is necessary to go through two of the rooms to get access. Another curiosity of this character which, is found in Chinatown is provided by two small cottages, absolutely hidden. The only way to get access is through a passage which runs a double fronted house standing in front of them. There are many letter boxes in strange places in London, “One occasionally can notice them tucked away in the corner of a window instead of being in the door. One, at least, is to be found under the doorstep of a house-not the place where a new postman would be likely to look.
The river postman is Mr. H. L. Evans, who, in the Alice Maud, rows out to vessels in mid-river every morning to deliver letters. His delivery extends from London Bridge to Duke Shore, Limehouse. He takes in the space of river between the Customs House and London Bridge, and then proceeds down stream, crossing and recrossing the river as he comes upon the vessels for which he has correspondence.
It is a picturesque occupation, and looks attractive, during the Summer weather. Heavy rains, fogs and frosts, however, play a big part in the river postman’s life. He cannot shelter himself from the rain as can his shoregoing colleagues; fog means groping about the river, sometimes only to discover that a wrong direction been taken, when the wrong shore is encountered, and with the necessity for avoiding tugs which may bear down out of the darkness at any moment.
Mr Evans is a licensed waterman. The duty as, from soon after its institution, always been performed by members of his family, and he represents the fifth generation to take it up.
Remarkably, there is a short Pathe film of 1933 which shows Mr Evans delivering to various ships and houseboats. Herbert Lionel Evans carried on in the position of River Postman until 1952 when the post was discontinued due to increased traffic in the Thames.
Although the job was mainly done by men, during the First World War, Doris Beaumont was a river post girl on the Thames. She delivered letters to the houseboats along a seven mile stretch of river at Staines.
By 1919 it was said that she had rowed 2,500 miles. She became a bit of celebrity gaining publicity from around the world. She was recently honoured in a series of special edition Royal Mail stamps.
Young Tony on the Billdora in the Royal Docks
In the last part of Tony Down’s memories of working on the River Thames, Tony recalls in the 1970s that the closing of the docks led a scarcity of jobs on the river. With most of the lighterage firms closing down, the prospects were looking bleak. With a young family and a mortgage, Tony made the hard decision to take voluntary redundancy and look for work on shore. Tony makes a successful new career in property and estate agency but the lure of the river leads to a few trips around Britain on a number of vessels.
During 1970s, a vacancy for a mates job came up, I applied and started on Touchstone as mate so I had come full circle from greaser boy to mate on the same tugs that I had been involved with for years, Swiftstone, Recruit, ending up on the Lingo now called Merit. Eventually, I made the hardest decision of my life in 1978 and took voluntary redundancy of £999 for 22yrs service on Old Father Thames.
There was never a day that I didn’t want to go to work in all that time but work on the river was getting scarce firms were closing down. I had a young family and a mortgage, so had to think about the future for all of us, working ashore for me was never the same, in fact I hated it.
I put some of my redundancy money in with my wife’s brother and we bought a grotty little mid terrace house in Plumstead for £1,500. We then renovated it and sold it £3,500. This was in 1980, the same house in Plumstead in 2014 was sold for £325,000.
Dealing with Bank Managers, Estate Agents, Solicitors, Planners and Councils was completely different from working with a crew of mates where we all look out for one another. I stayed in property and estate agency and helped my wife restore old furniture around our village in Suffolk.
I sailed round Britain in 1988 in a 40ft yacht that I fitted out over 2 yrs and I used to sail from Suffolk up to London every couple of years, Although on my last trip, I went from Ipswich to Tower Pier on the ”Waverley” the last paddle steamer, boring my friends who came with me with the history of my Thames. On my trips, the riverfront seemed to change so quickly, they call it progress, but I do wonder! Or is it my age?
I now potter around in my N/B Dreamcatcher on the canals of England I’ve been down the Kennet & Avon to Bristol, Wales, The Thames, the Potteries and the Grand Union. In the last couple of years, I have made nostalgic trips up the River Lea until the nostalgia ran out when I got to Enfield.
I returned to Limehouse Basin, then Regents Canal, Camden Lock, Paddington Basin, Slough Bulls Bridge, Grand Union, Northampton Arm, River Nene and my mooring at the bottom of my daughters garden in Benwick, Cambs in the middle levels. I had five weeks away going through 267 locks at 4mph. The trip helped me to slow life down nicely and working the locks keeps you pretty fit as well !
One of the highlights of the trip was when I went aboard my old tug Swiftstone moored on Trinity Wharf at the entrance of Bow Creek. Swiftstone is now a historic little ship owned by the Swiftstone Trust. The Swiftstone Trust is looking after her now she is 63yrs old, one of the few historic tugs left to remember our times of old on the Thames. It would have been nice, if Cory had kept one of their steam tugs as well as they were lovely vessels to work on, although the guys and girls that look after Swiftstone are doing a great job keeping her running.
A number of the old tugs are still going strong, Recruit is still working on the Thames she is also 63yrs old and still looking good in her new livery, Touchstone is in the Medway and privately owned, looking very smart last time I saw her in Ipswich. Relay has sadly been scrapped and Merit, I believe is up for sale. The Woodwood – Fishers tug, Billdora is still afloat at Eel Pie Island.
Many thanks to Tony for his memories and the photographs which are an important record of when the Thames was a working river with thousands of people working up and down the river. When the docks closed in the 1960s and 1970s it not only put those people out of work but was the end of a way of life that had carried on for centuries. Working on the river was generally hard work and frequently dangerous with a number of workers injured or losing their lives, however many workers loved working on the river and like Tony, they look back on their working life on the river with some pride and nostalgia.
After the nautical excitement of last week, it is now the time for murder on the Isle of Dogs. Fortunately it is a fictional crime and a book written by well-known American crime writer Deborah Crombie.
Regular readers will know I am always on the look out for books that feature the Isle of Dogs and Kissed a Sad Goodbye features many of the Island landmarks. The book was written in the late 1990’s and captures the considerable changes taking place on the Island at that time.
The story begins with George Brent, an Islander walking his dog near to Asda when he finds a young woman’s body in the tall grass of Mudchute Park, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, Detectives from Scotland Yard are assigned to the case and quickly begin to realise that this will not be a straightforward case.
A number of characters appear on the police’s radar, a mysterious busker who plays in Island Gardens and the Greenwich foot tunnel, the victim’s well to do fiancé; her sister’s ex-husband and her father.
What is intriguing about the book is that the author uses the history and character of the Docklands and the Isle of Dogs to provide an atmospheric background to the story. She cleverly intersperses the modern aspects of the story with historical accounts of the evacuation of local children during the bombings of WWII.
Another interesting part of the book is how the author has used the research of people like local historian Eve Hostettler to provide small quotes at the start of some of the chapters. The author’s extensive research gives the book a great deal of credibility and manages to tap into the Islands unique history.
Deborah Crombie was born in Dallas and bought up in Texas, She then worked in advertising and newspapers. A visit to England led to a life-long passion for Britain, and she later moved to the UK with her first husband living in Edinburgh and Chester. She returning to the US and wrote her first Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid/Sergeant Gemma James novel, A Share in Death in 1993. Her subsequent novels have been published with success all over the world.
It is quite surprising how many American crime writers write about London and especially about East London, but this is one that focuses almost entirely on the Isle of Dogs which is more unusual. If you come across a copy it is well worth a read and shows that in many ways the Island certainly has a global appeal.