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Whilst I have been watching the developments around Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs with some interest, there is another development at Orchard Place which is beginning to take shape. In a post in 2014, I reported that a new bridge had been built across from Orchard Place to Canning Town station. Since then buildings have appeared on the City Island site and ‘Mini Manhattan’ is becoming a reality.
Residential living has not taken place on this small piece of ground since the 1930s when it was the location of a small population of around 300 people for over a century.
Because of its location, it is effectively cut off by water, surrounded by Bow Creek and the Thames with just a narrow path going to Leamouth Road and the small settlement of people in Orchard Place felt they were cut off from the Isle of Dogs and Poplar.
In the 1930s an old resident explained “From its start to the present, we have never had either a butcher, baker, barber, post office, police Station, fire Station or pawn Shop, or seen a tramway or bus in our neighbourhood, so we have to do all our domestic business in Poplar, via Leamouth Road, which is a long and lonely walk, especially by night.”
Many people in Poplar and the Isle of Dogs did not even know Orchard Place existed and those that did probably heard stories about the resident’s lawlessness and rough lifestyle.
Many of the residents in Orchard Place were related and worked in the various factories and shipyards, however the Thames Plate Glass Works was a major employer in the 19th century when it was estimated that 75% of the Orchard Place adult residents worked there.
At its height of popularity, Orchard Place had around 100 two-storied cottages but by the 1930s that had been reduced to around 50. The cottages were never that strongly built and were prone to flooding in the lower rooms. However it was the great flood of 1928 which devastated the dwellings and even though people still lived in them into the 1930s, newspaper reports of the time reported on the scandal of the living conditions and labelled the area “London’s Lost village.”
Eventually the residents were rehoused in nearby Oban House in Poplar and the houses demolished and land used for various industrial use.
Considering its history, it is with some irony that the City Island has been built to foster a ‘community feel’ with gardens and leisure facilities. The old Orchard Place residents had a very strong community but few facilities.
Despite the development of Trinity Buoy Wharf as an Art Quarter, this particular area still feels strangely distant from the main areas of Poplar, Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs. It remains to be seen whether the land which was the location of “London’s Lost village” will finally be popular with a new generation of residents.
Orchard Place – 1924 (Photo W Whiffin)
For the last few weeks I have featured the memories of Lorraine Harrington about life in the 1930s on the Island. Her memories bought home the realisation that the thirties were hard for many people with economic decline, unemployment and the prospect of war.
Last week, another set of memories were bought to my attention which clearly illustrate some of these problems.
The memories have been published in a blog dedicated to the life of Lucy Matilda Taylor and called ‘ Down the Wall – An East End Childhood between the Wars by Samantha French’.
Samantha French is Lucy’s daughter and did something most of us wish we had done but often never get around to, she decided to write about her mother’s life. Samantha had moved to Australia around 40 years ago, however on one of her visits home 20 years later decided to collect the memories of her mother. For many evenings they would sit down, have a couple of drinks and Samantha would turn on the tape recorder and Lucy would chat away.
Samantha French with Mum (Lucy) and Doreen hopping at Yalding in Kent in later years.
Eventually Samantha produced a hard copy of her mother’s memories and gave them to Lucy’s other children and to Lucy herself.
Bow Creek – AG Linney 1933 (Photo Museum of London)
Regular readers will know that I have written many articles about Orchard Place and Bow Creek and especially about the small community that lived there up to the 1930s. The Bow Creek community were a mystery even to people who lived in nearby Poplar.
Very little was written about the community, therefore the memories of Lucy are fascinating on many levels. Although the community shared many of the problems and pastimes of other East End folk, there were aspects of the community that were unique.
Bow Creek – AG Linney 1934 (Photo Museum of London)
For example they often made a living from the river either by collecting some of flotsam and jetsam or fishing. A number of the community who no doubt had for years watched the boats going by, succumbed to the lure of the sea and joined the Merchant Navy.
Bow Creek Flood Damage 1928
The community may have benefitted from the river at times, but it was also a source of destruction. High tides often flooded the small houses and the Great Thames Flood of 1928 caused considerable damage which the community never really recovered from.
If you would like to read Lucy’s memories, you will find a link to the site here.
Many thanks to a member of the family , Michael Bennett who developed the blog and provided further information.
In a previous post I was speculating about the development at Orchard Place which now has a bridge across to Canning Town station, the plans for the development have now been published and the City Island site has been dubbed ‘ Mini Manhattan.’
Although this piece of land has been not used for residential living since the 1930s, before then it was the location of a small population of around 300 people for over a century. Because of its location it is effectively cut off by water, surrounded by Bow Creek and the Thames with just a narrow path going to Leamouth Road.
For the small settlement of people in Orchard Place they felt they were cut off from the Isle of Dogs. In the 1930s an old resident explained “From its start to the present, we have never had either a butcher, baker, barber, post office, Police Station, Fire Station or Pawn Shop, or seen a tramway or bus in our neighbourhood, so we have to do all our domestic business in Poplar, via Leamouth Road, which is a long and lonely walk, especially by night.”
Many people in Poplar and the Isle of Dogs did not even know Orchard Place existed and those that did probably heard stories about the residents lawlessness and rough lifestyle.
Many of the residents were related and worked in the various factories and shipyards, however the Thames Plate Glass Works was a major employer in the 19th century when it was estimated that 75% of the Orchard Place adult residents worked there.
Thames Glass plate works covered much of the northern part of Orchard Place (fig 1866)
At its height of popularity, Orchard Place had around 100 two storied cottages but by the 1930s that had been reduced to around 50. The cottages were never that strongly built and were prone to flooding in the lower rooms. However it was the great flood of 1928 which devastated the dwellings and even though people still lived in them into the 1930s, newspaper reports of the time reported on the scandal of the living conditions and labelled the area “London’s Lost village.”
Eventually the residents were rehoused in nearby Oban House in Poplar and the houses demolished and land used for various industrial use.
And that is the way it has been until a few years ago, when the land was cleared for development, various schemes were suggested but it seems the City Island development is now in the process of being started.
Reading about the development, there is no clear idea of how many people will live there, but they do stress that Orchard Place or City Island as it will be known will have a ‘community feel’ to it with gardens and leisure facilities.
If the development goes ahead as planned it will be a remarkable transformation for a small piece of land that was considered London’s lost village , cut off from the nearby Isle of Dogs and Poplar but now in the City Island brochure, the main selling point is how well-connected it is !
In the past few weeks I have posted a number of articles about Bridges inspired by the Bridge exhibition at the Docklands Museum.
However whilst waiting at Canning Town station I was fascinated by what looked like a bridge being built on the stretch of ground known as Orchard Place.
For such a small site it has been the focus of considerable use by industries from processing of whale blubber in the early 1780s, ship building and the great glass works of the Thames Plate Glass Company.
The previous residents of Orchard Place
Regular readers will know about my interest in this area and the regeneration on the site will bring back people living on the site that was known for its industries but did support a small colony of people up to the 1930s.
The people who lived there often felt cut off from the rest of Poplar and the Isle of Dogs because of the poor transport links. Therefore it is especially interesting that the bridge is intended to connect Orchard Place to Canning Town station.
There has been an intention to build a bridge for the last decade but for various reasons it has never materialised.
Finally it seems that the Bridge is being built to cross the Lea river, although only a footbridge it offers a few problems because it is expected to be raised to allow boats to travel up and down Bow Creek.
We will await further developments with interest as the Bridge is constructed and Orchard Place is developed.
Orchard Place 1895
In many posts I have mentioned the fact that the Isle of Dogs is relatively unknown to many Londoners. Even more surprising considering the small size of the “Island” is there are parts of the Island that are unknown to Islanders.
Orchard Place occupies a small spit of land surrounded by Bow Creek and since the 1930s has been the home to Industrial concerns except at the tip where it is the home of Trinity Buoy Wharf.
However from the 19th century up to the 1930s this was the home for a small settlement of people who in someways were effectively cut off from the Isle of Dogs. Their remoteness led to number of stories about their lawlessness and rough lifestyle, their reputation were not helped by visitors such as William Booth researchers who considered them some of the ” poorest and roughest in London “and a local vicar Father Lawless who described them in very unchristian way as ‘hardly human’and ‘incarnate mushrooms’, before finally stating ‘God must have made a mistake in creating them’.
These stories were obviously exaggerated because a police inspector told the Booth researcher that they were no trouble and Inspectors of the local board school who often praised its educational performance and behaviour.
The small population suffered greatly with the 1928 flooding of the area. In the early 1930s a newspaper report labelled them London’s Lost village.
In the slum clearances of the 1930s most of the small population was rehoused in a new block of flats at Oban House in nearby Poplar and the ramshackle houses pulled down, One of the people rehoused was Charles Lammin who wrote down his recollections in 1935 about life in the “lost” village.
“The Orchard House, is in the shape of twin peninsulas, it was populated about 120 years ago. On the site was built about 100 two-storied cottages, also several factories. Thirty or forty cottages have since been demolished at various dates to make room for improvements. (The rest are now in 1935 condemned as unfit for human habitation).
“The Orchard House is part of old Blackwall in the Parish of All Saints, Poplar, but about 1876 it was separated from the main part by the cutting of the basin of the East India Dock which left us isolated from the main roads, excepting a narrow road, named Leamouth Road, (this was formerly named Orchard Street).
“The Orchard House is bounded on the south side by the river Thames, on the north and east by Bow Creek, on the west by the East India Dock. The narrow Leamouth Road between Bow Creek and the East India Dock is all that joins us to the mainland of Poplar; therefore, the natives have always felt to be nothing to do with other districts.
“From its start to the present, we have never had either a butcher, baker, barber, post office, Police Station, Fire Station or Pawn Shop, or seen a tramway or bus in our neighbourhood, so we have to do all our domestic business in Poplar, via Leamouth Road, which is a long and lonely walk, especially by night.
“The name of the place is derived from the fact that there stood an old Inn named the Orchard House, which was demolished about eighty years ago. The site is now occupied by the Union Castle Line. In the early days the entrance to the Orchard House was started by the old East India Dock on the right – (the basin had not then been made); the dock contained nothing else but the old wooden sailing ships (steamers were not then known), and on the left of the entrance was what was known as the Pepper warehouse. This was the store and warehouse for the sailing vessels in the dock. Ammunitions were brought from Woolwich by Military wagons to the Pepper warehouse, and carried across Leamouth Road, through a gateway in the dock wall, to arm ships in the Dock, as the seas at that period were infested with Pirates. When the basin and warehouses were built and steamers began to come into being, the sailing ships gradually disappeared, the pepper warehouses were taken over by the Great Eastern Railway (now the L.N.E. Railway), and it still stands, and is still known to us as the pepper warehouse.
“The work carried on in the Orchard House during the first half of its existence was, at one end, mast, blocks, sailmaking, ships lifeboats and sailing ships. At the other end was carried on glass-making, oil milling and Boilermaking (Engineering in its early stages).
“The glass-making firm stood on the ground, which is now occupied by Messrs. Baldwins (who still have some of the Glass House walls standing), also the Bow Creek Union Oil Mills, Fowler Sugar Refinery, The Thames Sack & Bag Factory, the L.C.C. School, and also the roadway which leads to the above premises.
“Up to about 1875 the Glass House prospered, employing about 75% of all the inhabitants of the Orchard House, who were nearly all related. Plate glass was made there and sent all over the Country, including all the glass used in making the Crystal Palace, but about 1875 the competition of the United States glass industry ruined the Old Orchard House glass factory and caused them to close down. Therefore, the largest proportion of the workers, both men and women emigrated to New Albany, Indiana, U.S.A. to follow up the same class of work. They have invariably stayed there and have gradually died. (My Grandfather and Grandmother amongst them).
“There are still a large number of descendents of the glass workers living in the Orchard House, the most numerous are the Lammins, the Scanlons and the Jeffries, who also have greatly intermarried. By being isolated as we always have been, the children have always had to make their own amusements and being surrounded by water, naturally we have made the river our playground; therefore, both boys and girls have learned to swim and handle rowing boats equal to anybody. Up till a few years ago, the weekly practices of the young men was to hold rowing and swimming matches among themselves, and excellent form was always shown, but with the advent of the L.C.C. schools the common sports have died down as the men and women have other amusements in the Evening Schools such as woodwork, sewing, singing, dancing, gymnasium, etc.
“As riverside dwellers, it is a common occurrence to hear of children falling into the river, but they generally manage to scramble out themselves, but if they cannot, there is always elder ones near (both boys and girls) who take it as a matter of course, that they must jump in and save the drowning one. This is such a frequent occurrence that the inhabitants make no fuss about it, but only say it is our duty.
“The boys of the neighbourhood, also some of the men, mostly own rowing boats, and can therefore, pick up plenty of flotsam and jetsom, such as firewood, coal, old iron, rope, etc., which they sell at a very cheap rate to the neighbours. If asked, most of the people would outwardly show regret at leaving their old homes and surroundings, but inwardly we are almost invariably longing for the time to evacuate our old vermin and rat infested houses and get into clean and modern dwellings.
“In any time of personal trouble, in spite of any family quarrels, we always rally to each others assistance. We also address each other by our Christian and Maiden names, for years after we have been married. We are also very familiar and friendly with our School masters, teachers, or police who happen to be on their beats, and often have a friendly chat with them. It sometimes happens that strangers out of curiosity visit the old place; when they do, they have always been treated with civility and respect, and shown anything of interest to them.
“There are hundreds of people living in Poplar who have never heard of the Orchard House, or know where it is. I believe that some sections of the populace of London think that we are a low, rough and ignorant lot of scamps, but as the eldest member of one of the most numerous and oldest families still living here, I class myself as a true type of the general class of person in the Orchard House.
“I was born in 1873, right opposite my Grandfather’s old cottage, and at the age of twelve years I started work for Trinity House Corporation Workshops (also on the Orchard House). I was employed by them for 47 years, but was forced to resign through a prolonged illness. Now I am on the dole, and am still able and willing to take any light job. My Maternal Grandfather and Grandmother came from Lancashire to the Glass Works at the Orchard House where they and my mother worked until it closed. My Grandparents then emigrated to the U.S.A. leaving my Mother who was married with three children, (I being the eldest, behind at the Orchard House). My father was employed at Blewitts Oil Mills. Eventually I married my wife at the age of 22, who also came from an old and respected family of Blackwall; we have known each other since childhood, and have borne nine sons and two daughters, who still cling to the old home.
“We are respectful to everybody, but neither owe nor care for anybody, and although we live in such a lonely place I have never heard of anybody being molested by the people of Orchard House.
“Up to a few years ago it was a frequent occurrence to have the tide into our houses as high as eight or nine stairs up, especially in the Winter, which caused a lot of suffering, but the Authorities have by law, forced the owners of riverside premises to raise the banks, which has greatly prevented this happening, unless we get an abnormal high tide, like the recent great Thames Flood 1928, which ruined the bulk of our furniture and bedding, etc., but thanks to the generosity of the public, we were partly compensated for our losses, which helped us to get over it.
“At the present time 20% of the men of the Orchard House own motor boats of various sizes; they are mostly converted from old ships, lifeboats, whalers, fishing boats, etc., These are converted by the men themselves, and a great source of pleasure for them and their families and friends in fine weather or holiday times, is a trip down the Thames as far as Canvey Island.
“We also have our weekly socials at the Bow Creek Evening Institute, which bring people of other districts amongst us, and we pass many happy nights together. I, myself at the age of 63 am still a member of the Evening Woodwork Class and have just built a rowing boat to hold four persons on the Old Bow Creek.
“I regret having to leave the site of my family’s trials and struggles, but am comforted by the thought that we will still be able to see our old home and birthplace in the distance, across the Old Creek, which surrounds the Orchard House.”