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The Story of the Brunswick Hotel at Blackwall – 1833 to 1930


19th century view of Brunswick Wharf with Brunswick hotel on the left

Regular readers will know that I often recall the interesting and varied history of Blackwall, it is an area that has suffered greatly during 20th century redevelopment with only fragments left of its maritime past.

Up to 1930, the Brunswick  Hotel was a landmark on this stretch of the Thames, the hotel had a long and intriguing history until its demolition.

The Brunswick Hotel and Tavern was erected in 1833–4, the building contract was awarded to Messrs William and Lewis Cubitt. The first tenant was Samuel Lovegrove, who was already the proprietor of the West India Docks Tavern in Coldharbour.

Situated at the western end of Brunswick Wharf, the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern,  was considered one of Blackwall’s more elegant buildings, with an attractive river front with bay windows for good views over the river., At the back was a range of buildings including offices, stables (for 25 horses) and coach-houses, an ice-house and a bar or tap later known as the Brunswick Tap.

Lovegrove spared no expense in fitting up the hotel , hoping to attract a wealthy clientele . Within a few years the Brunswick had built up  a  good reputation  amongst ‘connoisseurs in gastronomy’ as a gourmet establishment, much patronized by the nobility and gentry. It became one of the venues for the famous Blackwall Whitebait Suppers which attracted politicians and the wealthy.

However by the 1870s, the craze for whitebait had died and the hotel closed in 1873, in 1874 the main part of the former hotel was let to representatives of the New Zealand Government for an emigrants’ depot, and this use continued until about 1900.

A newspaper article from 1900 included the reminiscences of someone who had stayed at the hotel in this period.

The Diary of a Queensland Emigrant.

The emigrants’ home, which I believe had been once known as the Brunswick Hotel, was presided over by a Norwegian captain and his wife, and was evidently an endowed or subsidised institution, run on Church of England principles. This captain had an authoritative touch about him that would do credit to a lion-tamer in a penny menagerie, but was not class enough for Barnum and Bailey’s. He had some slight sense of humour. I remember him telling the emigrants that it was not necessary to light a fire in order to make tea in Queensland. All they required to do was to throw a handful of tea into a saucepan of water, and leave it out in the sun. Many of us bad looked forward to seeing the sights of the city, but this privilege was denied us. In fact we were absolutely forbidden to go outside the dock gates.  The bedrooms or cubicles of the home were beautifully neat and clean, and contained a soldiers bed, a chair, table and a bible. These cubicles were ceiled with rabbit proof netting so that there was no danger of being struck on the face with a hob-nailed boot if your snoring disturbed the slumber of the occupant of an adjoining bedroom.
The food at the home was really good,! and there was plenty of it to be had. Besides the emigrants there were also at the home some of their friends who had come to see them away, and the colonial contingent,, and a friend or two of theirs. The emigrants did not have to pay for their board and lodging, but the other inmates had to, although the charges were so reasonable as to be merely nominal.

The emigrant depot closed in 1900 when the Managers of the Poplar and Stepney Sick Asylum leased the premises for a children’s convalescent home.  During the First World War the building was occupied as a barracks, and in the 1920s as offices by the adjoining firm of shipbuilders, R. & H. Green and Silley Weir Ltd of Blackwall Yard.

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The historic Brunswick Hotel at Blackwall, shortly before its demolition, in March 1929. A.G. Linney (Museum of London)

The well known River Thames photographer A G Linney managed to take a couple of photographs of the Hotel in 1929, just before it  was  demolished in 1930, by this time its glory days were well in the past, however there were a few newspapers that marked its passing and its past glories.


The Brunswick Hotel, on the north bank of London River Thames, in Blackwall Reach, with its historical associations, has disappeared, The hotel was built at the beginning of the nineteenth century by the East India Company whose famous old sailing vessels were anchored in the river opposite.
The hotel was situated on the meridian of Greenwich, and a mark to indicate this was cut on the parapet under the direction of the Astronomer Royal. The enormous bay windows afforded a magnificent view of the shipping, which from time immemorial had passed up and down the Thames.
A hundred years ago, Its spacious rooms were filled with gay society, which included Royalty and Cabinet Ministers, who went down river to enjoy the whitebait dinners; which were then the vogue.
It is believed that William IV, then Duke of Clarence frequently went there. The hotel was also much used by passengers and officers of the East India Company.
During the ‘sixties and later the building was used as an emigration centre for Australian colonists. The property passed into the possession of the Port of London Authority when that body was created to control the Port of London in 1909.


The historic Brunswick Hotel at Blackwall, shortly before its demolition, in March 1929. A.G. Linney (Museum of London)

Eventually the whole wharf was taken over by the building of the Power station and all the past swept away.  However , for a short time in the 19th century, the Brunswick Hotel was one of the most fashionable eating establishments in London.


A G Linney Photographs of Trinity Buoy Wharf 1927 – 1930

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Miscellaneous Views: The north bank of the Thames between Blackwall and Trinity Buoy Wharf, on 3rd February, 1929. To the left is J.W. Cook’s Orchard Wharf, Orchard Stairs and causeway. The lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf is in the centre distance, and to the left of that the towers of the Thames Ironworks building at the mouth of the River Lea.

A.G. Linney ,1929 (Museum of London )

In a recent post on the Bridge exhibition, there were a  couple of photographs  by Albert Gravely Linney ,  although he was not a professional photographer, his work is now considered very important because he captured all aspects of the River Thames  just before the destruction of World War Two.

Albert Gravely Linney was a writer and journalist who in 1925 became  the first editor of the new Port of London Authority Monthly Magazine  which gave him full access to most of the docks and wharves along the river.

Wherever he went, Linney took his camera. He also published a number of books featuring stories and the history of the Thames,  his most popular books  being  Peepshow of the Port of London  and The Lure and Lore of London’s River .

The Museum of London holds thousands of  Linney’s photographs and over the next few weeks I will do a series of posts showcasing his work in relation to the Isle of Dogs.

First of all is the photographs that Linney took at Trinity Buoy Wharf in the years 1927 – 1930, what is really fascinating about this series of pictures is to see Trinity Wharf as  a working centre.

For nearly 200 years, from 1803 to 1988, Trinity Buoy Wharf was occupied by the Corporation of Trinity House, initially for storing buoys and sea-marks, but in the 19th century took over the responsibility for testing chains, anchors and cables which led to the building of number of workshops and a lighthouse for testing, repairing and making equipment.

In the 1930s that work was still being undertaken, so we have pictures of men painting Buoys and the mountains of chains and cables. We also have next to Trinity Buoy Wharf , the famous Thames  Ironworks which closed in 1912 but a few buildings at this time still remained.

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Miscellaneous views: A Trinity House vessel moored alongside the Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall, in August, 1930. Bow Creek, the entrance to the River Lea is on the right. A.G. Linney ,1930  (Museum of London )


Miscellaneous views: Buoys lined up on the quayside at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall, in March, 1929. In the background is the Engineering Department building of the Thames Ironworks, which was demolished around 1948. A.G. Linney ,1929 (Museum of London )

trinity 4Miscellaneous views: Mooring chains awaiting tests at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall, in July, 1927. The man in the foreground is the Superintendent of the Trinity House Depot, Mr Reynolds. A.G. Linney ,1927 (Museum of London )

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Miscellaneous views: Painting buoys at the Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall, in July, 1927. Linney did not take many photographs of people actually at work. A.G. Linney ,1927 (Museum of London )


Miscellaneous views: The experimental lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, Blackwall, in June, 1929. Built in 1864, the lighthouse has survived although Trinity House sold the site in the late 1980s.A.G. Linney ,1927 (Museum of London )